Mind exercises for seniors may help prevent cognitive decline. Exercise doesn't have to be one-dimensional either. Seniors can benefit from a wide array of activities, such as walking, lifting weights and playing board games.
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About Mild Cognitive Impairment
Exercise is often prescribed to help slow the development of diseases like obesity and diabetes. Working out can help keep your body healthy, improve your physical performance and prevent such diseases. Its benefits extend beyond physical fitness, though.
Your mind also benefits from exercise. As you age, you become susceptible to something called cognitive decline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 16 million people in the U.S. living with cognitive impairment.
Those who have this condition may have symptoms that range from mild to severe. They typically find it harder to learn new things, recall information and make decisions throughout the day.
People with mild cognitive impairment can continue with their daily lives but might have episodes of forgetfulness. If you have a severe impairment, you might need help to get through daily life. You might forget the meaning or importance of some things and lose your ability to read and write.
The Cleveland Clinic says that about one-quarter to one-third of those with mild cognitive impairment progress to dementia, which is a broad term for age-related degenerative brain diseases.
Alzheimer's is an example of a disease that causes dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. If you have dementia, you may experience symptoms like memory loss, problems with language and impaired problem-solving ability.
Read more: Frontal Lobe Enhancing Exercises
Exercise Slows Down Cognitive Decline
These problems don't arise overnight. Cognitive decline is a slow process, and exercise can fight that decline. A June 2016 research paper published in the Journal of Clinical Exercise Physiology states that exercise may help prevent cognitive decline in both the short and long terms. While it's true that working out has mental benefits for people of all ages, it appears to be particularly beneficial for older adults.
Regular exercise may help with executive function, attention and memory, as the researchers note. They found that two areas of the brain were particularly stimulated by exercise: the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.
The type of exercise matters too. A July 2017 review published in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology has found that aerobic training was more effective than resistance training at preventing cognitive decline. Researchers note that doing both resistance and aerobic training is the most beneficial.
As this study shows, older adults should, at the very least, incorporate aerobic training in their fitness regimen. Jogging, walking, cycling and aerobics classes are all examples of exercise that can elevate your heart rate and benefit your health. Adding resistance training will help further.
Mind Exercises for Seniors
Interestingly, a March 2019 review published in Frontiers in Medicine shows that exercise has different kinds of benefits for the brain. While aerobic workouts are beneficial for the circulatory system and may help the brain function better, complex tasks like tennis have other benefits.
The more you work your body, the better it is for your mental health. The brain works hard to coordinate all the fine movements that go into a sport like tennis. You have to move your body and pay attention to external factors, like the racket and ball. The added stimulation creates positive changes in your brain, increasing its plasticity and improving cognition.
All in all, aerobics for seniors, like jogging, walking or cycling may improve your fitness, but you should also do complex tasks, such as playing tennis. Each type of activity may benefit your brain but in different ways.
Interestingly, women seem to derive more cognitive benefits from mind exercises for seniors than men. The July 2017 review in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology suggests that exercise may improve executive function in women more than it does in men. Executive function is a broad group of mental qualities, including the abilities required to plan, focus and remember instructions.
Read more: Alzheimer's Disease Affects Both Mind and Body
Practice Yoga for Brain Health
To keep your mind sharp, you should try a combination of different exercises. Brain exercises like crossword puzzles and board games can be done daily. You should also exercise regularly and incorporate both aerobic and resistance training into your routine.
Sun Health Communities recommends yoga for older adults looking to prevent cognitive decline. The mind-muscle connection means that the brain is working as well as the body. Depending on how complex your yoga class is, it can count as both a form of exercise and a complex motor task.
Try to find a local yoga class or free online video tutorials. Some instructors post free yoga videos on YouTube or other video streaming services. When you're looking for a yoga class, keep in mind that you shouldn't strain yourself and potentially cause an injury. Going to a class with a careful instructor can mitigate risks.
Sun Health Communities also recommends golf, although it usually isn't free to play. When you go golfing, you use both your body and mind. Your mind has to actively plan out each shot and make estimations about how the ball will move. This makes golf a mental activity as much as it is a physical one.
Play Brain-Stimulating Games
Doing activities like crossword puzzles or playing Scrabble regularly keeps your brain active and alert. However, doing the same thing over and over again can get boring. Aspen Senior Day Center recommends doing a different kind of puzzle each day.
For example, you could do a crossword puzzle on one day, sudoku on the next day and an online memory game the following day. Switching between these free mental exercises for seniors can make things more interesting and force you to think harder.
Whatever activity you prefer, try to do it with other people. It's important to maintain relationships, says the AARP. The more time you can spend with friends and family, the better. Social contact can boost your mood and stimulate your brain in other ways, such as the use of language.
The AARP also suggests using computer-based programs for brain stimulation. If you get bored with board games and need something different, you can play computer games to get different challenges.
Go for a Walk
The National Institute on Aging recommends brisk walking as a free, easy-to-access form of exercise. They note that aerobic activity, like brisk walking, might be better for cognitive health than things like stretching or resistance training.
In terms of exercise, walking is relatively safe and easy to pick up. You don't need any equipment or specific techniques. You simply need a safe place like a walking path or a mall to walk.
A September 2017 study published in Neurobiology of Aging looked at the effect of walking on brain health in seniors. Researchers have found that many seniors tend to decrease the time spent walking. Those who maintain their walking routine are better able to fight age-related changes to the brain.
One such change is a reduction in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. Consistent walking can help keep this area of the brain from degenerating as you age.
- National Institute on Aging: "Cognitive Health and Older Adults"
- Aspen Senior Day Center: "Smart Ways Seniors Can Strengthen Their Minds With Brain Games"
- Sun Health Communities: "7 Brain Exercises for Older Adults"
- Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology: "Sex Differences in Exercise Efficacy to Improve Cognition: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials in Older Humans"
- Frontiers in Medicine: "Is There a Preferred Mode of Exercise for Cognition Enhancement in Older Age?—A Narrative Review"
- Journal of Clinical Exercise Physiology: "Exercise and Cognitive Function: Increased Fitness Improves Cognition in Older Adults and Those With Chronic Medical Conditions"
- Alzheimer's Association: "What Is Dementia?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Diagnosed With Mild Cognitive Impairment? Here’s What Comes Next"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Cognitive Impairment: A Call for Action, Now!"
- AARP: "Engage Your Brain: GCBH Recommendations on Cognitively Stimulating Activities"
- Neurobiology of Aging: "Long-Term Changes in Time Spent Walking and Subsequent Cognitive and Structural Brain Changes in Older Adults"