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The best exercise for healthy aging
I often get asked – what is the best kind of exercise to do ?
I have two answers.
The pragmatic. The exercise you WILL do. Getting moving can be challenging at the best of times, finding something that you like and will stick with, is more important than worrying about the pros and cons of specific moves.
That said………. exercise is NOT created equal.
Exercise is NOT created equal
So when choosing what exercise to do, it is probably worth considering what you want the exercise to do.
Again, there can be a whole range of answers….
But for most people, they want something that will help them age gracefully. Translated people are looking for something that will help them avoid disease and disability and maintain physical and cognitive function.
Physical fitness can definitely do this.
The more muscle you have, the better your body chemistry !
But keeping the juices flowing to the brain, can only do so much. You need to keep the brain wiring in tip top shape. When brain wiring “disconnects” – cognitive impairment sets in.
So how can you preserve the wiring ?
Just DANCE !
You get the blood flowing and you activate hippocampus.
How you move matters
This is what a team of researchers based in Germany discovered, when they put two groups of oldies through their paces. The group of healthy sedentary oldies (between the ages of 63 – 80 years) were signed up for some “exercise”.
- 12 danced. Styles included line dancing, jazz, rock n’ roll and square dancing – not at the same time, dancing styles were changed every fourth session and participants were expected to learn the choreography by heart.
- 10 gymed doing biceps, squats, sit-ups and bike riding
The exercise programme was conducted twice a week, for the first 6 months and then dropped down to once a week sessions, for the next 12 months. Each exercise session lasted for 90 minutes.
NOTE : The researches went to great lengths to make the exercise experience comparable in terms of intensity, duration and frequency.
Moving their way to health
The team checked progress at 6 months and at the 18 month mark.
Cardiac fitness improved across the board.
Confirming moving more definitely gets the juices flowing.
But, when it came to brain “fitness”, dancing excelled……….
The dancing brain
Looked a bit different.
MRI scans revealed changes in the precentral gyrus and the parahippocampal gyrus, suggesting dancing had done more than just get the juices flowing.
It’s probably not a big surprise………. dancing requires a large array of brain networks, because…
Dancing is challenging
Moving the whole
The precentral gyrus is also known as the “motor strip”, it is in charge of moving.
All the bits and pieces of you !
In any new exercise programme, the precentral gyrus would need to step up it’s game, to help co-ordinate those NEW moves. More so, if the exercise programme moved arms, legs, head and torso in a co-ordinated fashion.
Which is exactly what was observed in this study – in the short term.
Once moves are mastered, the precentral gyrus should be able to relax. This happened in the gym goers. But the dancers kept changing their moves, leaving their precentral gyrus on the “go”, at the 18 month mark.
Memory and dance
The parahippocampal gyrus is one of the first brain bits to go AWOL, in cognitive impairment. Problems in this region of the brain, typically manifest, as a loss in brain volume in this region.
To dance, you’re moving in 3D space, so you need to engage visual tracking of both direction and distance from a reference point – this requires memory encoding and retrieval.
Dancing developed this ability.
And this matters……………
The fact that dancing induces neuroplastic changes, in this region of the brain, is encouraging for people looking to age, gracefully. It signals, the degenerative process is NOT inevitable, the region of the brain can adapt.
If engaged appropriately.
The take home message from this study is the ideal exercise programme needs to……..
Keep it moving
Arms, legs, heads and torsos – the more bits you move, in a co-ordinated fashion, the better. And you need to move those bits and pieces in different ways. Ideally, committing the diverse routines, to memory.
Dancing does this.
PLUS it’s fun and it’s social.
Brain likes variety
The same old exercise routines, will give you the cardiovascular benefits, but they won’t be stimulating for your brain.
And when it comes to brain health, the old adage is true.
Use it or lose it !
So if you are looking for an exercise programme that will help you age gracefully, a dancing class is a great option.
Exercise changes things on the inside. Fat cells that have been gyming for 6 months show 7000 changes to their genetic profiles.
There is no pointing in having a gym membership that you never use ! Apply a little scientific thinking to the gym dilemma and get yourself to follow through.
Exercising makes you feel hot and bothered, if you’ve got extra padding, exercise is even hotter work. Cooling down your hands can help stop you overheating.