We’ve all been told how great exercise is for us and we all know that we should be exercising more. Even moderate activity improves our overall health; less heart disease, less incidence of diabetes, stronger bones & muscles, improved sleep, better digestion, and lower rates of depression & cognitive decline. So why is exercise the first thing that we put off? We make every excuse in the book NOT to do it but did you know that it’s the best thing for you?
The World Health Organization recently released a review of the interventions that are most likely to prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Nutrition, sleep, and stress management made the ranks, but what scored higher than cognitive training and supplements? Exercise! That’s right, exercise is one of the most agreed-upon strategies for reducing the risk of developing dementia and slowing cognitive decline.
One research review demonstrated that approximately 80% of the brain’s gray matter is modifiable by exercise and physical activity. In a Harvard Aging Brain Study, individuals with higher levels of physical activity showed slower cognitive decline and slower loss of brain matter. In a University of California study, when adults without dementia were assigned to do aerobic exercise or light stretching for a year, the people that stretched, LOST 1.4% of their hippocampus, but those in the higher intensity exercise group GREW their hippocampus by 2%. Article after article discusses how improved levels of fitness and different types of exercises improve brain structure, function, and cognition.
Born out of this research, Brain Training was developed. It has been found through scientific evidence that by combining physical training with brain training exercises, we can actually GROW our brains! In normal exercise programs, true cognitive load is not enough or explicit enough to grow the brain and keep new brain cells from dying off. We need to experience a variety of skills, both open and close-ended. Open-ended activities include dual-tasking and provide more engagement, more novelty, and more unpredictability, all of which help to improve cognition and working memory demands.
Our brains are made up of many regions that are all responsible for different activities. From this graphic, you can see that different exercises too can affect different areas of the brain. Getting out and challenging yourself to do DIFFERENT activities can change your brain for the better. The activity that you really do not enjoy doing is the one that will benefit you the most because that is the area of your brain that is lacking.
Exercise that stimulates the heart rate to be above resting causes molecular changes in the brain. If you don’t exercise much, your brain may not be producing sufficient BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), an important protein that influences brain function. Higher intensity exercise increases BDNF production. So, start sweating and breathing harder to improve your brain and your body. And be consistent!! Exercising just one day may have an effect, but being consistent will encourage neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells. With consistent effort, structural changes in brain activity and volume can be detected.
At Kemper Cognitive Wellness we recognize the numerous benefits that Brain Training offers, from improving the four primary cognitive domains: memory, attention, processing speed, and executive function to creating new neurons through the process of neurogenesis as well as maintaining and integrating them. In addition to a multi-modal exercise program that includes cardio, strength training, and coordinative movement, Brain Training can have a profound impact on both ameliorating and preventing cognitive decline in older individuals.
As a proponent of brain health, we are excited to offer Brain Boot Camp; a cutting-edge, dual-tasking exercise program for individuals who would like to sharpen their brains and stave off cognitive decline. In Brain Boot Camp we combine physical movement with mental tasks. Each 45 min class consists of a warm-up, cool down, and anywhere from 2-4 dual-tasking exercises. We utilize things like weights, balls, cones, balance bars, colored dots, and more in order to add variety and keep things interesting. No two classes are the same! Modifications are given based on the participants’ needs and or ability. Classes are small, which allows for more personalized attention and creates a teamwork atmosphere. Brain Boot Camp is for all ages of adults, but most participants have ranged in age from 50-85 years old. Want to see what an actual class looks like? Check out our videos on Facebook. Interested in signing up for classes? Go to www.kemperwellness.com/bootcamp.
-Valerie Hurst, Client Advocate
-Alison Connors, Certified Brain Health Trainer, Functional Medicine Health Coach