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Being physically active can do wonders for the body – and the mind. Find out how exercise and brain health relate in this post from Anabel Cooper. Also, what does this connection mean for the aging population globally?
It’s long been the assumption that there is some kind of link between physical fitness and brain health. However, the majority of studies investigating this link used a methodology that was less than completely accurate. Generally, scientists have depended on self-reporting by volunteers on their levels of exercise. However, a recent series of tests adopted a new methodology and found:
- Increase in aerobic fitness, reflected by integrity of white matter
- The largest results for executive and memory function
- Poor aerobic fitness leads to poor memory and reasoning results
A New Way to Measure Exercise and Brain Health
So, what was this new methodology? Aerobic tests were carried out with and measured by VO2 Max or maximum oxygen uptake. As a result, scientists were able to take precise measurements of their participants’ fitness levels. From these results, they were able to work out some definite correlations between exercise and brain health. The key was the link between fitness levels and integrity of white matter.
That’s not to say that fitness is the “be all and end all,” or that it plays a definitive role in the development of white matter, though. The scientists noticed that in many cases there was little difference in development between a subject with high fitness levels and one without. However, there is nevertheless an important correlation.
Exercise and Brain Health Research Impacts Seniors
While these results may have little significance for younger people, their effects on an aging population are significant. Naturally, the importance of fitness throughout a person’s life is important. However, considering the impact physical exercise could have on the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, these results are worth sharing.
The surge in an aging population is set to have serious effects on our approach to healthcare and aged care. Already, countries like Japan are struggling to find solutions to the problem. An aging population requires a high amount of care, and that required for dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers is even higher still. The ability to slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s could play a significant role in reducing the necessary care an aging person may need regularly.
Definitive Answers Have Not Yet Been Found
That said, the scientists behind the recent experiment have been quick to point out that while there is certainly a correlation, they are yet to agree on specifics. For example, how much exercise is needed to make a difference, and whether specific types of exercise have a greater effect than others, remain unanswered.
However, given the progress the current experiment has made, we hope to get answers to these questions soon. The ability to issue a definitive compilation of advice for aging people looking to make the most out of their fitness could prove extremely useful. What is perhaps most remarkable is that this is the first time that scientists investigating the link between exercise and brain health have based their methodology around V02 Max readings, rather than reported personal experiences. This change in approach is responsible for this newly available data.
How to Best Support an Aging Population
What is clear is that, with an increasing senior population globally, scientists and others in many countries are trying to come up with a model that can support this aging population. Regardless of the possible effects it may have on the brain, higher fitness levels in old age allow for:
- More independence
- Less reliance on homecare workers
Of course, there are limits. Sooner or later, we all die of something, and it may not always be a sudden decline. There is also the danger that we may start shifting the goalposts: an increasingly able and healthy aged population could result in retirement ages being pushed back to try and force those who seem capable to continue to be productive in society.
All these points are more important than ever. But the benefits of fitness to both mental and physical health remain a reality.
Exercise is Difficult in Urban Areas
What might be more of a pressing issue is how an aging population can get enough exercise. The presence of “Blue Zones” around the world has long been seen as a clue of the most beneficial lifestyles for old age. Found in parts of Japan, the Mediterranean, and other places, these areas have exceptionally long living populations.
They are usually rural areas. And scientists point to the benefits that an active life has for the populations there. These activities can include gardening, farming, and walking. With the exercise and brain health link, this is great to see.
But as the number of people in cities continue to grow, the options for old people (and people generally) to get their required exercise get lower. In many parts of the world, cities are becoming very unfriendly to the elderly.
The Trend: Cities and Older People
Over past 20 years or so, cities in developing parts of the world have grown fast. Cars and motorbikes have become more popular than bicycles and public transport as ways to travel. As a result, many of these places are tough to travel around for seniors who no longer have driver’s licenses.
It’s easy for us to underestimate how unfriendly cities can be for an aging population. A hostile street environment can have serious effects on their ability to walk around, and to exercise comfortably. That city life is in direct contrast to the long and happy life many older people have in rural areas. Given the above evidence of exercise and brain health linking, seniors in urban areas aren’t getting advantages mentally.
Healthcare, Exercise and Brain Health
While it is certainly not at the level of a crisis, the growing aging population around the world does raise many questions for a younger generation. Advances in healthcare promise to add to an ever-growing elderly population, increasing the demand for adequate care.
Japan is already trying to solve this problem. They are finding innovative, kind ways to deal with it. Rather than trying to keep the elderly working longer, and adding to the economy, they are looking for how to give them the retirement they deserve.
Considering current trends in the West, it seems unlikely that we’ll see a similar thing here. It may be time for the elderly to consider getting more exercise in anticipation of a continually rising retirement age.
What do you think about exercise and brain health? Do you think seniors in cities are going to have problems soon?
About Today’s Writer
My name is Anabel Cooper and I’m an editor and blogger from Harlow in the UK.
Health issues and mental aspects of the modern world inspire me. Enjoy my article to learn more about the link between exercise and brain health.
By the way, social activities also influence the personality. Read more about different social activities here.