As we age, we tend to experience increasing aches and pains, especially in the morning or on cold or rainy days. We also face a greater likelihood of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, just to name a few. However, one of the most frightening issues for most seniors to deal with is the fact that as we age, our memory is likely to become increasingly impaired.
A certain number of us will develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but few of us will entirely avoid the occasional “senior moment.” As the population in the United States continues to age, researchers focus more time and effort on finding ways to reduce cognitive decline.
Much of this research focuses on the hippocampus, a structure in the brain that is linked to learning and memory. As we grow older, it is one of the first regions in the brain to show signs of deterioration. Past studies have shown that adults who are more physically active tend to have larger hippocampi. These studies also revealed that exercise can enhance cognitive ability and memory performance.
It has been suggested that physical activity stimulates the growth of new brain cells, and by doing so, keeps the brain “young.” Researching this question is difficult, since changes in brain function produced by neurogenesis can only be observed over long periods of time.
In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers ran a series of experiments to determine whether exercise enhances memory over a very short span of time: just minutes, rather than weeks, months, or years.
The researchers charted measurable improvements to memory-based brain activity during the first few minutes after light exercise. Brain imaging definitively showed that there was improved connectivity in the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus that plays a role in establishing new memories, and in the cortical areas of the brain, which help process detailed memories.
When the researchers tested participants using standard memory recall tests, they saw that increased connectivity was linked with improved memory performance.
How much exercise was required to demonstrate this improvement? Just 10 minutes.
Research co-author Dr. Michael Yassa explained that, “We observed that 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterwards. “Dr. Yassa emphasized that even short walking breaks throughout the day can have considerable effects on improving memory function and cognition.
The next steps in the team’s research will be to determine if these positive results also apply to older adults who are at increased risk of cognitive decline. They also hope to understand if light exercise performed regularly alters the brain’s structure and function over long periods of time, and to determine the ideal amount of exercise required to make an important and lasting difference.
While their work will take a while, ours should only take 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes of light exercise, repeated a few times throughout the day, may keep us both physically and mentally fit.
Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program that allows frail seniors — those who are certified as meeting the need for nursing home level of care— the ability to live healthy lives in their own homes.
We encourage physical activity among this frail group, offering yoga, chair exercise — and even line dancing — further bolstering their physical, emotional, and cognitive health.
Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.
We provide a variety of services, including primary care, hospital care, medical specialty services, prescription drugs, nursing home care, emergency services, home care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, adult day care, recreational therapy, meals, dentistry, nutritional counseling, social services, laboratory / X-ray services, social work counseling, and transportation.
Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.