While performing Kettlebell swings or some medicine ball throws, I get the question, “What does that exercise work?” The answer is “My brain.” I quickly explain how optimal training activates your nervous system and builds the neurons and synapses necessary for brain health. A research query of great interest is the impact exercise has on the aging brain. The New York Times, December 31, 2016 article by Dr. Lisa Felman Barrett, *How to Become a ‘Superager’, presents some interesting research.
The article discusses the research results that studied functional MRI scans of the brains of superagers. Superagers are elderly individuals that score well on tests of memory, task attentiveness, and planning. These MRI evaluations looked at both the anatomical and activity differences in various locations of the brains of these cognitively adept older adults. The researchers and Dr. Feldman Barret give us some recommendations on lifestyle challenges that produce a superager brain. It involves some consistent involvement in strenuous exercise activity and ongoing intellectually challenging tasks.
*New York Times, December 31, 2016, Dr. Lisa Felman Barrett, How to Become a ‘Superager’. See the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/31/opinion/sunday/how-to-become-a-superager.html?_r=0
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
A Little Realistic Reasoning
Worst: I want to lose weight.
Most people are not successful in losing weight with exercise. The ones who are have generally been diligent in following a disciplined nutritional regimen and this was the reason the numbers on the scale went down. Now whether the reduction was good—fat loss, or bad—bone and muscle loss, we do not know, but exercise alone is generally a poor method of weight loss. Not losing any weight is a primary reason people stop participating in an exercise program.
Best: I want to stay healthy.
Two thirds of the American population get no regular physical activity. The adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle have been proven. Physical inactivity is far more debilitating than most of us realize. One way or another, you will end up spending time and money on your health. Spend it up front with exercise and proper education, or spend it later on medical tests, disease treatments, and doctors’ bills. The good news is you get to choose.
Worst: I want six pack abs.
This is probably not going to happen no matter how hard most of us train. Body fat levels have to get down to well below 12 percent to see an outline of the abdominal muscles. Twelve percent for men is low and for women it may be unhealthy.
Best: I want my brain to function at high levels.
Lots of new research has been done on exercise and its effect on the brain. The animal and human research subjects that perform the most physical activity have the best scores on brain function tests. Read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by Dr. John J. Ratey. I would rather have a pumped frontal cortex and a jacked hippocampus than chiseled abs.
Worst: I am making up for eating like an idiot.
You can’t out run a cookie. It is much easier to ingest more calories than burn them off with exercise. The damage caused by a diet filled with bad food, alcohol, and tobacco cannot be magically counter balanced with an hour on the elliptical or a step class. Success with exercise has a huge psychological component. Several studies have shown it is difficult to stay consistent with exercise if you mentally approach it as punishment for bad behavior.
Best: I want to feel good for a long time.
Move well and you feel well. If you can maintain the capacity to get off the floor, squat, lunge, and rotate, you will be far less likely to have pain. Rarely do I evaluate a patient with shoulder, neck, knee, or lower back pain and not find a glaring loss of mobility or strength. Maintaining the ability to move should be a lifelong pursuit for anyone interested in staying active and independent into old age.
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
When I am asked the, “What muscle does that exercise work?” question, my response is always the hippocampus. I am not joking. The big benefits of a consistent program of exercise are neural and hormonal. Muscle strength, flexibility, fat loss, and greater endurance are all good but the greatest impact on your health and quality of life is achieved by developing a finely tuned nervous system and a beneficial hormonal profile.
While performing Turkish Get Ups or Med Ball Throws, I get the question, “What does that exercise work?” The answer is “My brain.” I quickly explain how optimal training activates your nervous system (brain) and improves how you move. An area of intense research is the impact exercise has on the aging brain. A study that utilized high-resolution brain imaging tests has now shown that consistent strength training improves brain health in the elderly. Furthermore, it appears that two sessions of strength training a week has a better brain bolstering effect than one session.
Read the October 21, 2015, New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds, “Lifting Weights, Twice a Week, May Aid the Brain.” Then, get your scrawny medulla oblongata to the gym and do some pull ups.
To read the article, click on the link below:
-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
In chapter nine of his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey lays out the physiological effects exercise produces in the aging brain. Everyone should read this chapter. It will give you the motivation to get up and move more often. Since this book was published in 2008, more studies have revealed that exercise is the best method we presently know of to preserve brain function.
A July 2, 2014 New York Times article, Can Exercise Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk written by Gretchen Reynolds, discusses a recent study on structural brain changes in people who have a genetic propensity for developing dementia. The study was unique in that it used imaging tests to assess a brain structure called the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a big part in memory and is often shrunken in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Despite having the genetic propensity to develop degenerative changes, the subjects who participated in regular exercise showed significantly less hippocampus atrophy than their sedentary counterparts. The subjects who exercised had hippocampi that looked normal.
Take the time to read the attached New York Times article and get Dr. Ratey’s book. The primary reason we should be moving around more is to keep our brain healthy.
To read the article, click on the link below:
Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS