What's Good for the Heart is Good for the Brain

Research demonstrates that exercise helps dementia

Published: February 27, 2014

Recent research has demonstrated that exercise delays impairments of cognition as well as decline in activities of daily living. It has been determined that aerobic exercise (exercise that increases heart rate) and strength training are most beneficial, but stretching and balance exercises also help the brain. Exercise sessions should occur for at least 30 minutes three times per week.

The reasons for the effect continue to be studied, but the exercise benefit seems to occur for multiple reasons:

  • Exercise helps control blood sugar levels. People with impaired blood sugars tend to have a smaller hippocampus. This portion of the brain is responsible for forming, organizing and storing memories.
  • Exercise increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain, allowing the brain to receive nutrients.
  • Exercise may increase self-confidence and may reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Exercise can increase levels of BDNF, a substance that improves the synapses in the brain and helps grow neurons.
  • Exercise improves the brain’s ability to self-heal.
  • Exercise improves the brain’s ability to resist injury.

In follow-up testing and assessment, individuals improved brain volume, increased the size of their hippocampus, improved on test of memory and attention. Their ability to use language improved. Improvements also occurred in activities of daily living such as dressing, cooking and managing a check book. And, as expected, individuals also improved their balance, mobility and cardiovascular capacity.

The therapy staff on the campus of Passavant Community can help you get back into exercise, improving both your physical and cognitive health. They are available on an outpatient basis by calling (724) 452-3492 or via home health services at (877) 862-6659.

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