Exercise, Aging, and Cognitive Function

*Above Picture is athletes preforming a “Brain WOD” of  tic-tac-toe with our exercise balls!

How Is Exercise Beneficial In Improving Cognitive Function?

By Coach Brandon Dobson

For the past 5 years, when my family travels home for Christmas, we make our rounds to visit our parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins. Each trip, we make a special visit to the assisted living center where my great­-grandmother, Carolyn (my Nanny), lives. Nanny turns 90 in November. Over the course of the past decade my family has watched Nanny battle the increasing stages of dementia. She doesn’t recognize me anymore and though she has met my wife and daughter on a few occasions, she forgets within minutes who they are why she is in their company. Nanny is starting to lose control of her general balance and motor skills as well. In the past two years she has fallen a few times and even fractured her hip. These incidents cause more concern than they would if she didn’t have dementia because she forgets the fall ever occurred and doesn’t understand why she is in so much pain.

My Nanny’s story is not uncommon. In fact, over 5 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.(1) This article does not set to prove that exercise is “guaranteed” to prevent or treat neurological degenerative diseases, but we can use what we know about active lifestyles to argue in that favor. Let’s look at three reasons why.

1. Exercise improves cognitive skills.IMG_8211

In recent, controlled experiments, scientists involved with Alzheimer’s research have found that “a single bout of exercise increased memory for [Alzheimer’s] patients”. (2) Exercise increases blood flow. Increased blood flow to both the heart and the brain have positive effects on the one exercising. Within these experiments, scientists saw these results:

  •  People who participated in the exercise program had far fewer neuropsychiatric symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, and depression). Those in the control group had deteriorated on measures of psychiatric symptoms, while the intervention group improved slightly. This lead to a statistically significant difference between the two groups.
  • People in a subgroup of the exercise group who attended more than 80% of the classes and exercised vigorously (raising their heart rate to more than 70% of their maximal rate) had statistically significant (p=0.03) improvements on mental speed and attention.
  • In addition, people who participated in the exercise program improved in physical fitness, physical function, dual­-task performance and exercise self­-efficacy.

At CrossFit Inside Out, we often put together “Brain WODs” (Workout of the Day) to help our athletes become more aware of active thought processes during increased physical activity. These Brain WODs are beneficial to athletic development and an overall healthy lifestyle.

IMG_83422. Functional movements improve balance and coordination.
With a focus on functional movement, CrossFit teaches as part of its certification curriculum 10 recognized skills of Fitness. (3) Coordination, Balance, and Accuracy are listed among these 10 skills and contain within their definition an aspect of “controlling body movement in space and time”. As we age, these 3 (as well as the other 7) skills erode over time when physical activity is slowed or ignored. Unfortunately, a large number of morbidity and mortality rates, as well as premature nursing home admissions, are attributed to falls. A focus on training these components of fitness will help prevent falls thus preventing early deaths, diseases, and premature nursing home admissions.

TJ3. Healthy lifestyles prevent leading causes of death.

Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are among the leading causes of death in Americans. As of 2012, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes (8.1 million of that statistic are undiagnosed). Statistically, having diabetes gives you a 65% higher risk of developing dementia, and having high cholesterol increases that risk 43%. (4) These diseases that we face in older age are tied together through the cardiovascular and metabolic systems. Astoundingly, the leading causes of death in America are preventable to an extent. Increased physical activity and healthy nutrition are simple ways to prevent these leading causes of death.

It is never too late to develop a healthy lifestyle. Will you have to sacrifice time and certain foods? Most likely. Will it be worth it in the end? Absolutely.

Here is your next step: Create an action plan. You can start slowly by adding in activities throughout the day. Take a short walk after meals. Learn how to squat properly. Learn how to safely lay on the floor and get back up without injury. By taking practical steps towards advancing your fitness level, you can improve your quality of life one day at a time!

If you would like more information on how CrossFit Inside Out can help you become the best version of yourself, please give us a call at 910­-769-­3461 or click the link below to set up a free consultation.

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1 https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/alzheimers/qanda.shtm
2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951984/

3 http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ­trial.pdf
4 Spark The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Ratey MD, John J. 221

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