A conversation I had with my four-year old the other day went something like this:
4yo: your hair is going kind of whitey at the front
me: yes it’s terrible isn’t it; I’m getting old and going grey
4yo: ahhh yes getting old and going gaga
My four year gets his political correctness from his father. This one comes from my husband’s pet names for our dogs: “Miss Piggy”, the 10 month old labrador-mix who likes to crash picnics and “Lady Gaga”, the 14 year old spaniel, who does occasionally get confused as to which group of people she is supposed to be following.
I have been thinking and researching about ageing for many years and without a shadow of a doubt the scariest manifestation in older age is dementia. While losing mobility and fitness is a serious concern, the thought of losing oneself is terrifying.
It seems to me that many people view the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, as bad luck or something that runs in families. There are indeed potent genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, BUT having these risk factors does not mean you will definitely develop Alzheimer’s and conversely not having those risk factors does not mean you are off the hook. Like many complex chronic diseases developing Alzheimer’s disease is thought to depend on the influence of many environmental factors interacting with several genes. You can’t do anything about your genes but you can do something about your environment.
You know physical activity is good for you, right? I am sure you are aware that exercise and physical activity is essential for the health of your heart and muscles, but how about your brain? It has now been firmly established that exercise has an array of robust biological and cognitive effects on the brain1.Biological effects include;
- enhanced blood flow
- increased levels of neurotrophic factors
- increased grey matter volume in certain brain regions (YES your brain size is linked to how much you MOVE)
While, cognitive effects of exercise include:
- improved memory
- enhanced learning capabilities
- improved mood
In terms of the ageing brain, many studies have demonstrated that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise
- reduces the general cognitive decline linked to normal ageing
- reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease2
- reduces the level of deterioration in patients with dementia3,4
If you, or anyone you know, are interested in learning about how you can support yourself or your clients as you get older, consider joining us at our ageing workshop in March 2019 in Edinburgh; we will be taking a deep dive into the science of ageing, exploring the types of movement and exercise to support healthy ageing of the whole body and looking at coaching strategies to incorporate these activities into your life, or the lives of those you teach. It will be a great two days or moving and learning in a fun, relaxed and supportive environment.
Alzheimer’s Disease: This disease is the most common cause of late-life dementia. It is associated with physical changes in the brain: certain proteins aggregate in the brain forming plaques and tangles. Current pharmacological treatments produce modest effects on cognition but have little if any effect on disease progression.
Cognitive: Processes associated with the acquisition and understanding of information and knowledge, decision making and problem solving. Cognitive decline is a broad term but includes problems with memory and judgement.
Dementia: a loss of cognitive function to the point that it interferes with a person’s ability to perform his or her daily functions.
Neutrotrophic Factors: are compounds that support the growth, survival and differentiation of neurons (brain cells). One example that is particularly thought to mediate the link between exercise and brain health is BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor).
1. Mandolesi, L. et al.Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front. Psychol. 9, (2018).
2. Stephen, R., Hongisto, K., Solomon, A. & Lönnroos, E. Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review. J. Gerontol. Ser. A 72, 733–739 (2017).
3. Hollamby, A., Davelaar, E. J. & Cadar, D. Increased Physical Fitness Is Associated with Higher Executive Functioning in People with Dementia. Front. Public Health 5, 346 (2017).
4. Groot, C. et al.The effect of physical activity on cognitive function in patients with dementia: A meta-analysis of randomized control trials. Ageing Res. Rev. 25, 13–23 (2016).
5. Müller, S. et al.Relationship between physical activity, cognition, and Alzheimer pathology in autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. J. Alzheimers Assoc. 14, 1427–1437 (2018).
Jeannette is a co-founder of Move More UK.
Jeannette is a PhD biologist and Nutritious Movement® certified Restorative Exercise Specialist. She loves to learn and teach and her passion is the intersection between science and movement.