As we age, our mental capacity starts to decline, especially as our levels of physical activity decrease.
Declining mental function, memory loss and even dementia and mental illness are all genuine concerns amongst the elderly members of society. However, by remaining physically active beyond the age of 50, you can help to ensure that your mind remains as sharp as it ever was and improve your overall mental health.
According to a study published in the journal, Neurology, back in 2004, physical exercise can help the mind by stimulating the creation of fresh brain cells. Although everyone will eventually experience a decline in cognitive function, as a result of this creation of new brain cells, the speed at which a person’s mental faculties decline can be drastically reduced.
The study, which was carried out over a period of ten years, observed 295 men aged between 70 and 90 years of age. They were closely observed and notes were made about any increases or decreases in physical activity.
As part of the study, their cognitive function was assessed by monitoring their language, mathematics and memory skills. It was found that the mental functioning of those who cut their physical activity by one hour per day declined at three times the rate of those who maintained their previous levels of physical exercise, demonstrating a clear link between a decline in physical activity and a decline in brain function.
It seems clear, therefore, that exercise can play a significant role in prolonging sharpness of mind amongst those in their advanced years.
Other Benefits of Physical Activity
Aside from keeping minds sharp, and the more obvious physical benefits, such as weight loss, staying active can produce a number of other positive results for an elderly person’s mental health.
Moderate levels of exercise, carried out regularly, cause the body to release endorphins to the brain. These endorphins act as the body’s own natural painkiller, stimulating the brain and allowing it to cope more effectively with challenges such as physical pain, stress and anxiety.
Various mood disorders can also be aided or even prevented by physical exercise, and these include a number of serious mental health problems, like depression, bipolar disorder and social anxiety disorders. People already suffering from these problems are advised to exercise in order to improve their symptoms.
Staying physically active can also play a role in fighting dementia and in coping with the early stages of the illness. In a study conducted by Art Kramer, a neuroscientist from the University of Illinois, it was found that elderly patients who engaged in 45 minutes of exercise, three days a week, actually increased the volumes of their brains, even in their later years. Exercise has also been shown to improve short and long-term memory and regular physical activity can significant cut your chances of ever developing Alzheimer’s.
Recommended Levels of Exercise
Physical activity can take many forms and does not need to be complicated or overly intense. A walk to the shops will suffice for most elderly people, although some may find swimming, aerobics or yoga to be even more beneficial.
Ideally, in order to receive the maximum cognitive benefit, people who have reached old age are advised to engage in around 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. Those who struggle to maintain this level of exercise may find it easier to break it down into 15 minute sessions, twice a day.