There are plenty of reasons to exercise: it gives us energy, it makes us feel good, and reduces the risk of several chronic diseases. But there’s now another reason: exercise may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which is known to be incurable. Until recently, it was not thought to be preventable.
According to recent research published by the University of Pittsburgh and UCLA, exercise and healthy lifestyle choices may prevent dementia in older people. The research shows that active seniors have more gray matter in the areas of the brain responsible for memory. In addition, those who already had mild cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s showed an increase in brain volume as a result of a boost in activity. What’s more, researchers linked a healthy diet and regular physical activity to a reduced incidence of protein build-ups that are associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The upshot? Any kind of aerobic exercise can help your brain grow and enhance cognitive function even as you age. And we’re not even talking about long hours of grueling workouts.
These findings are welcome news, as the healthcare industry braces for a wave of dementia patients expected to sweep Westchester and the country as baby boomers reach 65 years of age. Over 5.3 million people in the United States are now living with Alzheimer’s disease, up from 5.1 million in 2010, and those numbers are expected to rise to 13.5 million by 2050.
The findings also fit perfectly with what the experts at United Hebrew of New Rochelle already know about dementia. At United Hebrew, many exercise programs are already in place on our campus of comprehensive care, where our staff embraces a philosophy of treating the whole person. What’s more, at United Hebrew’s Willow Towers Assisted Living facility, we recently expanded our fitness offerings to include a new outdoor walking club.
“When we exercise, we’re working our heart. It improves our blood flow to all of our organs including the brain. It makes us more efficient, decreases our cholesterol and lowers our blood pressure,” says Nora O’Brien, PT, DPT, executive director, Willow Towers. “All of those things have been shown to reduce the possibility of developing dementia. The research is validating what we always believed.”
Willow Towers offers a diverse array of exercise programs to encourage all of their residents to move. In addition to the walking club, there are daily exercise classes, chair yoga, chair Zumba, Tai Chi, and swing dancing. All programs are led by therapists, instructors, and specialists trained to work with seniors.
Dr. Diego Escobar, a physician at Willow Towers, treats many residents who are hypertensive or diabetic, and often recommends exercise as a part of his treatment plans.
“There’s no question that exercise helps people physically, of course, whether it’s to lose weight, decrease risk of disease, build muscle, and avoid health complications,” says Dr. Escobar, who notes the research findings back up his clinical observations.
“I see a difference between seniors who exercise and those who don’t,” he says. “Active seniors are more able-bodied, and more mobile. That makes them seem happier and more optimistic about their futures. Exercise makes the brain more fit, too! I always encourage our seniors to stay on the move. It makes for a healthy body, a healthy brain, and a happier disposition.”