Boosting Brain Health For Seniors

strong-brainNeuroscientists are now convinced that the brain is capable of superior performance even into the 10th decade and beyond? If the brain remains healthy and free from disease, it can continue to function normally for as long as we live. Sustained brain health and enhanced lifelong learning are vital parts of aging and improve quality of life.

Terry Eckmann, PhD, an associate professor at Minot State University in North Dakota and an advisory board member of the International Council on Active Aging, shares what you can do for your mental and physical health to promote a healthy brain.

Exercise

Neuroscientists recommend swimming, dancing, gardening, knitting, more frequent use of the non-dominant hand and leg, and walking 10,000 steps on a daily basis (Nussbaum 2006). Small (2006) encourages regular physical activity that includes an adequate cardiovascular workout. Medina (2008) suggests that aerobic exercise is the key to lowering the odds of getting Alzheimer’s by 60%. A daily 20-minute walk can cut the risk of having a stroke, one of the leading causes of mental disability in the elderly, by 57%. Ratey (2008) calls aerobic exercise Miracle-Gro® food for the brain, “fertilizing” cells to keep them functioning and growing.

Mental Activity

It’s important to use the brain to keep it healthy. Nussbaum recommends activities like playing board games, doing crossword puzzles, learning a second language, taking a class, increasing exposure to classical music and acquiring new skills. Small (2006) reports that participating in such leisure activities as playing board games, reading books or doing crossword puzzles cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by nearly a third.

A Healthy Diet

Balanced nutrition is essential for body and brain health. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture 2010) provides science-based advice on food choices for good health. The guidelines recommend a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugar. Water is also essential for the electrical transmissions within the nervous system that make us sensing, learning, thinking and acting organisms.

ACSM Activity Guidelines For Older Adults

As part of a 2007 report titled Physical Activity & Public Health Guidelines, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association published the following Activity Guidelines for Adults Over Age 65 (or adults 50–64 with chronic conditions, such as arthritis):

  • Do moderately intense aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week or do vigorously intense exercise 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week.
  • Do 8–10 strength training exercises, performing 10–15 repetitions of each exercise 2–3 times a week. Strength training is important because it prevents loss of muscle mass and bone and is beneficial for functional health.
  • If you are at risk for falls, perform balance exercises.
  • Have a physical activity plan.

If you don’t already exercise, it’s important to get started—and seek help if necessary. The general recommendation is that older adults should meet or exceed 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week; however, it is also recognized that goals below this threshold may be necessary for older adults with physical impairments or functional limitations. However, if you can exceed the minimum amount of exercise, do it!

Flexibility is also important. For each day older adults perform aerobic or strength training activities, they should take an extra 10 minutes to stretch the major muscle and tendon groups, spending 10–30 seconds on each stretch and repeating stretches 3–4 times.

Published as a service of IDEA, the leading international membership association in the health and fitness industry, www.ideafit.com.

http://www.SusanIverson@IDEAConnect.com

 

Advertisements

Balance Training for Older Adults

According to research provided by the American College of Sports Medicine, Balance Training can assist with activities of daily living for the aging, adult population.  “Balance is key to activities of daily living, performance, fall prevention and independence. Balance can be affected by muscular strength and endurance, as well as proprioception, inner ear function and eye-sight. It can be maintained and even improved as we age through practicing balance-specific training exercises. Research has shown that using specific tools in a safe environment can be particularly effective in improving your balance and enhancing your postural stability. Research has also shown that this type of training helps to reduce back, knee and ankle injuries.”

BALANCE AND AGING

With age, balance tends to decline due to lower muscular strength and flexibility, as well as numerous other causes including loss of proprioception and inner ear problems. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), nine percent of the adult population ages 65 and older report having difficulty with balance. This, along with a decline in lower body strength and stability, leads to an alarming 300,000 hospital admissions for fall-related injuries among older adults each year. The good news is that balance can be improved with simple exercises that can be done in therapy settings, health clubs or even at home.

ABOUT BALANCE 
TRAINING TOOLS

Balance Training tools come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as simple as your own two feet or a pillow, or they can be made of foam, wood, rubber, springs, etc. These tools, along with balance training exercises, can rehabilitate, strengthen muscles and condition the body, as well as improve stability and postural alignment and help prevent falls. Men and women of all ages and activity levels can benefit from balance training. Start simply and progress slowly, gradually increasing the difficulty of the exercises.  You may start with exercises such as balancing on one foot and then progress to using simple foam filled balance pads to challenge the body on an unstable surface.

BALANCE TRAINING TOOLS
 YOU CAN USE

Regular exercise, such as walking, can increase your strength and coordination, which are important for maintaining balance. The following provide more targeted balance training.

Balance Pillow – This foam-filled pad allows you to sit or stand (with one foot or two) on a spongy, unstable surface to improve posture and stability. This is a great tool for someone starting a Balance Training program.

 balance tools

Balance Disc – This tool is a round rubber disc inflated with air to create an unstable surface. Balance discs can be used while seated or standing to improve balance and coordination or to add intensity to body-strengthening exercises.

Blue Half-Ball – This is a stability ball cut in half with a flat, hard bottom. You can stand, sit or kneel on the air-filled ball portion of the tool or on the hard plastic side with the round surface down to create a rocking balance exercise. Blue half-balls are great for balance, core stability and proprioception training.

Foam Roller – This tool comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. These foam- filled balance, posture and core training tools can be round, half-round, short (1′) or long (3′). To use this tool you may kneel, stand, lie or sit on the device.

Balance Board – The flat top to this tool allows you to stand and practice your balance while elevated on a spherical base. The range of motion that the device allows can be adjusted for changes in difficulty.

Stability Ball – This inflatable ball comes in different sizes and can be used as a balance and/or strength-training aid.

SAFETY AND CONSIDERATIONS

Balance training tools should only be used on a flat, stable, non-slip surface. Be sure to consult with your physician prior to starting a Balance Training program. Always practice balance training near a stable structure (such as a wall, bar or counter) to give you some assistance if you slip or begin to fall; or practice under the supervision of a qualified professional.

IMPLEMENTING A BALANCE TRAINING PROGRAM
When starting any new training program, it is important to use a gradual progression. Begin with low-intensity exercises and progress to more challenging exercises. When performing balance exercises, it is helpful to establish a stable, non-moving focal point. This will keep your attention and allow you to focus your eyesight for better stability.

GETTING STARTED

At first, you may start with simple balance training exercises – such as standing on one foot for a few seconds, and then gradually increasing your time for more difficulty. General guidelines for Balance Training include:

• Start with a relatively stable foundation or position before progressing to a less stable foundation or position.

• Start with static or stationary position (holding a position) before adding any movement (e.g., walking or stepping) or resistance (e.g., adding a hand weight).

• From there, you may add movement to your balance pose, such as lifting your arms while still keeping your balance on one foot.  When you need to be challenged beyond this exercise, add a balance tool of your choice.

You might start by sitting on a blue half-ball with two feet on the ground, and then move to one-footed contact while seated. You can move to standing on a blue half-ball with both feet while using a stationary aid like a wall, railing or chair for balance assistance. Finally, you can progress from standing on a blue half-ball without assistance to stepping on and off the half-ball with assistance, then without.

To get set up with a personalized program, one that is appropriate for your current fitness level and balance abilities, consult your physical therapist or fitness professional. To reduce risk of injury from falls, community dwelling older adults with substantial risk of falls (e.g., with frequent falls or mobility problems) should perform exercises that maintain or improve balance. Balance Training should be performed daily for improvement in overall stability. Perform balance training before you do resistance training, so your muscles are not fatigued, to ensure that it works.

Reprinted with permission of the American College of Sports Medicine. Copyright © 2011 American College of Sports Medicine. This brochure was created and updated by Jennifer Jens, B.S, and is a product of ACSM’s Consumer Information Committee. Visit ACSM online at http://www.acsm.org.