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

Research demonstrates that exercise helps dementia

Published: October 21, 2015

Recent research has demonstrated that exercise delays cognitive impairments and decline in activities of daily living.

It has been determined that aerobic exercise (exercise that increases the 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, the portion of the brain that 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 new 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 who exercised regularly improved brain volume, increased the size of their hippocampus, improved on tests of memory and attention and improved their language abilities. Improvements also occurred in activities of daily living such as dressing, cooking and managing a check book. And, as expected, these individuals also improved their balance, mobility and cardiovascular capacity.

The therapy staff at 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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