An Anti-Aging Solution We Can Get Behind
“Where did I put my car keys?”
“What time was my appointment?”
“Wait, what did I go into the kitchen for?”
Does this sound familiar? Many can relate to moments like these, and it’s become common to write them off as signs of aging. But is it really due to age in and of itself – or a lack of cognitive health?
Similar to the way you workout to strengthen your muscles, you can exercise to strengthen the mind as well. We’re not saying you can turn back time (sorry, Cher) –- aging is unavoidable –- but there are ways to exercise your brain that can reverse some of the adverse effects of aging, such as the ability to focus and retrieve information quickly. Hence, an anti-aging solution that works!
Movement and Cognitive Function
Recent studies suggest properties of exercise that help protect against declines in our cognitive abilities, also known as our brain’s ability to function, that happens as we get older age .
Attention and executive function – the brain’s ability to handle, process, and adapt to stimuli – are both measurements of cognitive function that can be improved with exercise.
Attention, or a rapid response, is an indication that someone is on-task and therefore appropriately responding to the given stimuli.
A person’s executive function includes their ability to successfully perform a task.
In a study published in 2017, researchers looked at the effects of a single bout of cardiovascular exercise versus strength training on attention and executive function in the brain. Attention increased after cardio training, but executive function increased after both cardio and strength training . So both lifting weights and cardio exercises such as walking, swimming, or biking can help improve our brain’s ability to perform well.
In an analysis of several studies, researchers looked at moderate cardiovascular exercise and its effect on executive function in the brain throughout different ages and fitness abilities. Older adults, as well as younger children, received greater benefits from one cardio session than other ages did . The brain is more sensitive to cardio exercise when the executive function is undergoing developmental changes like those seen in preadolescent children as their brain grows and develops. and those seen in older adults with the age-related decline in executive function.
Exercise temporarily enhances executive function in the brain, regardless of how fit someone is to begin with. This temporary change can impact performance and success in everyday tasks at work, school, or home.
Movement and Your Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is essential for maintaining healthy neurons and creating new ones. Basically, BDNF helps the neurons in your body accurately receive and relay important information so that your body can appropriately and accurately respond.
BDNF plays a central role in modifying and creating new neural pathways that connect neurons in the brain. Similar to how water provides what a plant needs to stay healthy and for seeds to grow into plants, BDNF is necessary to keep the neurons in our brain healthy and to help create new ones. BDNF aids in helping the brain adapt and change, which counteracts the age-related decline in our brain’s ability to create new neurons and keep neurons healthy.
In a 2017 study, researchers found that healthy older adults (defined here as 65-85 years old) who performed a single 35-minute cardio exercise routine showed increased BDNF levels throughout the body . This suggests that the physical changes in your body during exercise help trigger an increased level of BDNF. When you move, your body naturally responds by helping to keep your brain healthier.
In another study published in 2015, researchers looked at the BDNF response after lower body strength training in older adults. They found an increase in BDNF after just one bout of strength training ! Exercise, whether cardio or strength, increases the amount of BDNF in your brain and throughout your body no matter what age you are.
The Importance of Neural Pathways
Our brains are constantly taking in new information from the environment around us, as well as processing information from our body.
The information in our brain travels along neural pathways between different neurons. These pathways are much like a railroad track carrying something from one destination to the next. If the track hasn’t been maintained well, it’s harder for the information to get where it needs to go.
BDNF helps create and maintain these tracks, as well as create new neurons – or destinations – for the information. The health of our brain and body depends on this accurate transfer of information.
Moving your body keeps your brain functioning well, which will enable it to continue to adapt to the ever-changing environment. It’s never too late to receive the benefits from exercise. As we say here at Green Mountain, “Something is better than nothing.”
So get up, get out, and move – because even just that single bout of cardio or strength exercise can help to keep your brain healthy.
We can help you reconnect with the pleasure of moving. Join us this winter in scenic Vermont to discover just how good physical activity can feel. Our movement professionals are skilled in adapting activities to make them doable for women of all abilities. Contact us to speak with a Program Advisor.
- Sebastain Ludyga, M. G.-T. (2016). Acute effects of moderate aerobic exercise on specific aspects of executive function in different age and fitness groups: A meta-analysis. Psychophysiology, 1-13.
- Ayelet Dunsky, M. A.-R. (2017). The effects of a resistance vs. an aerobic single session on attention and executive functioning in adults. Public Library of Science, 1-10.
- Krister H˚akansson, A. L.-C. (2017). BDNF Responses in Healthy Older Persons to 35 Minutes of Physical Exercise, Cognitive Training, and Mindfulness: Associations with Working Memory Function. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 1-11.
- Jeremy J. Walsh, T. D. (2015). Neurotrophic growth factor responses to lower body resistance training in older adults. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 1-7.
By McKayla Stoltenberg
McKayla is a fitness intern at Green Mountain at Fox Run for the fall of 2017. She is obtaining her B.S in Health & Exercise Science with a concentration in Health Promotion and minors in Business and Nutrition from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. McKayla was born and raised in Colorado Springs and has always had a passion for movement and encouraging other to move, as well.