The Link Between Exercise and Brain Function in Seniors

A recent study published in the journal of Behavioral Brain Research has found that regular physical exercise for seniors does more than just offer physical benefits like stamina, strength, and cardiovascular health: it may also be the key to protecting against the decline of essential cognitive functions. For seniors regular exercise and the mental sharpness it provides could also mean a positive shift in independence, confidence and emotional well-being.

It’s important to understand how grey matter and white matter- the two main types of tissue in our brains- function. Grey matter contains the cells that receive, store and respond to input occurring inside and outside the body. In this way, grey matter drives thoughts and actions. In contrast, white matter cells form the connections between grey matter and the central nervous system; they are messengers that deliver information and commands between the brain’s grey matter and the rest of the body.

As people age, grey matter and white matter both steadily decrease and the brain begins responding differently to stimuli. For example, the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. Furthermore, when the left brain signals the right side to move, the right side of the brain is completely inactive (same for right brain/left body). This is known as a “silent period.” As people grow older, these signals get criss-crossed and both sides of the brain start reacting to one side of the body- a symptom that researchers link to the loss of both types of brain matter.

Exercise appears to counteract these mixed signals. In the study, when seniors who exercised regularly were compared to sedentary seniors, the group who exercised less than 45 minutes per week experienced a significantly higher amount of brain “cross-talk” than those who participated in daily fitness. In fact, this study suggests that active seniors have brain activity similar to young adults. Through a series of cognitive tests, the researchers determined that the duration of the essential “silent period” in young adults was 90 percent longer than sedentary seniors but only 35 percent higher than active seniors. This is a strong indication that long-term physical activity for seniors could delay or even reverse some of the brain miscommunications that are linked to chronological aging.

Whether your loved one is receiving home care or lives independently, Phoenix home care agency Nightingale Home Care provides cohesive in-home nursing care that strives for the physical and mental empowerment of all our clients. Our caregivers have witnessed first-hand the benefits of exercise for those in elderly home care. They know it can be difficult for seniors receiving long term care at home to get motivated to exercise, so they provide assistance, encouragement and companionship throughout your loved one’s exercise plan. Find out more about Nightingale’s renowned private medical care services and commitment to providing the best elder care in Phoenix by calling (602) 504-1555 or visit us online.