July 27, 2022
Cognitive decline is a fear as people age, but experts say daily exercise can boost brain health and even improve quality of life for those diagnosed with dementia. Walking, water aerobics, chair yoga - even gardening can increase a person's heart rate - causing more blood and oxygen to reach the brain. This in turn releases hormones that help brain cells grow and regenerate. Lisa Dedden Cooper - interim senior policy and research advisor for Policy & Brain Health at AARP - said the popular phrase "use it or lose it" applies to both physical and brain health. "The research suggests that being physically active helps repair and protect chemicals in the brain," said Cooper. "It increases your circulation, reduces anxiety." Cooper said the risks of diabetes, heart disease, depression and stroke can all be reduced by exercise. Experts say between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise daily is the key to a long, sharp life. AARP offers yoga, meditation and free Zumba classes at 'aarp.org/houstonevents.' Yuri Amor Pérez has been teaching fitness classes for seniors for 15 years - and is a bilingual yoga, Zumba & High-Intensity Interval Training instructor, and the founder of Fitmix Communities. Perez said she has seen regular stretching and breathing exercises improve stamina and memory, especially in her dance classes. "They learn steps, they learn the movements - because just a little bit of balance also is great for brain health," said Perez. "So, they keep memorizing all those steps, all those ideas. Those little things they keep thinking and remembering, and it's some new information that is exciting and really good for them." Cooper noted that physical inactivity also can be a significant risk factor in developing dementia, and those living with a diagnosis often report improved health overall from daily exercise. "Reduced physical activity in people with dementia leads to this decrease in muscle mass and strength," said Cooper. "And it increases their weakness and their risk for falls, and falls are the leading cause of hospitalization for people with dementia." Cooper reminded older adults who exercise to hydrate, because aging causes the sensation of thirst to decrease and dehydration is another common reason for hospitalization. More information about brain health and AARP's "Staying Sharp" program is online at 'stayingsharp.aarp.org.'