Older people who exercise regularly are more likely to maintain brain function used for everyday tasks like following a recipe and keeping the pills they take straight.
A study by Ohio State University examined the exercise habits of 28 people with chronic lung problems for more than a year found that routine workouts help stave off not only the physical effects of aging, but also the decline in cognitive abilities or brain function. Participants who exercised for a period and then stopped lost the benefits they gained. Health care experts said that findings bolster the need to encourage the elderly to follow exercise routines and to create more rehabilitation programs for people recovering from illness or injury.
The effects of aging were more pronounced in the test subjects, whose average age was 65, because they suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a blanket term including emphysema or bronchitis.
For ten weeks, participants gathered at a wellness center for an aerobic routine lasting about an hour. It included walking, stationary bike riding, pool aerobics and weight training. For the first five weeks, they exercised daily then cut back to three times a week. At the beginning and the end of the ten-week period, researchers put the subjects through a battery of emotional, physical, and cognitive tests. As researchers predicted, the scores improved after the exercise. They gave participants instructions on how to maintain their routines at home. Researchers said it was follow-up tests a year later that surprised them.
A year later, the same battery of tests was administered. Researchers had expected the people who kept exercising to show continued improvement in the tests. Instead, testing indicated exercise was needed just to maintain the same levels of performance. The people who continued to exercise remained stable, but the people who stopped exercising or exercised irregularly showed a decline.
The study concluded that exercising could help older people, both sick and healthy, maintain the mental functioning ability needed to interpret information without being distracted. This type of thought is involved in complicated tasks, such as following directions to a house that a person has never visited. Cognitive function is also essential for older people to continue to live independently.
If you would like more information about “Exercise for Better Brain Function” call the Senior LinkAge Line® at 1-800-333-2433. The Senior LinkAge Line®: A One Stop Shop for Minnesota Seniors is a free statewide service of the Minnesota Board on Aging and Area Agencies on Aging. Specialists provide one-to-one assistance with helping older adults age well and live well. Call 1-800-333-2433 for assistance Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm or chat with a specialist online during these hours at www.MinnesotaHelp.info®.