Cognitive Health and Older Adults
Brain health can be affected by age related changes in the brain, injuries such as stroke, brain injury or mood disorder, or diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia. While some affecting factors cannot be changed, there are many lifestyle changes that can make a difference. Brain health refers to how well a person’s brain functions across different areas such as:
- Cognitive Health – this deals with your memory, thinking and learning abilities
- Motor Function – this deals with controlled movements and balance
- Emotional Function – how you react emotionally to situations
- Tactile Function – how one reacts and feels in response to touch
Exercise and Parkinson’s
Cognitive impairments are highly prevalent in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and can affect a patient’s quality of life. These impairments remain difficult to manage with current clinical therapies, but exercise has been identified as a possible treatment. Some studies in Parkinson’s disease have shown improved mobility, quality of life and a possibility of slower rate of disease progression when exercise is included. Exercise plays an important part in everyday life, whether you’re young or old. If you are an older adult, experts recommend you aim to be as active as you can possibly be. Some of the benefits of exercising when you’re a senior can include:
- Balance Improvement – which can prevent falls
- Strength Improvement – which can aid in independence
- Disease Delaying – such as heart disease, osteoporosis or diabetes
- Cognitive Function Improvement – leading to a better quality of life
Exercise is known to improve overall well-being in older adults and benefit cognitive functions of those with neurodegenerative diseases. Different types of exercises such as aerobics, resistance and balance training, have been shown to improve motor symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. During some of the studies, it was found that any type and intensity of exercise has a positive effect on symptoms, compared to no exercise at all. Aerobics, when compared to other forms of exercises, tended to prove most impactful when it comes to memory in Parkinson’s patients. Based on some clinical studies, evidence suggests that a more intensive aerobic exercise program, including strength and balance training can promote greater cognitive gains. However, low intensity and balance-based exercises also showed benefits.
Questions remain about the best exercises to prescribe as well as duration of the exercise. Understanding this could help us harness the benefits of exercise and its potential neuroprotective effects.
Exercising Benefits on Parkinson’s
While exercise is important to healthy living for everyone, for those living with Parkinson’s disease, it is also a vital component to maintain balance, mobility, and daily activities. Exercise enhances the sense of well-being, even across different stages and severities.
Research has proven that exercise can improve gait, tremor control, balance, flexibility, coordination and grip strength. For people with mild to moderate PD, targeted exercises can address specific symptoms for example: aerobic exercise improves fitness, walking improves gait, and resistance training strengthens muscles. There is one study that showed that people with Parkinson’s disease who exercised regularly for 2.5 hours a week had a smaller decline in mobility and quality of life over the span of two years. Research is still ongoing to discover therapies that will change the course of the disease.
Many people find that they achieve the most success when they exercise with a partner or in a group setting. Based on the stage of the disease, it may be best for people with PD to train in an environment where others who could offer assistance, are available. The best way to see benefits, is said to be exercising on a consistent basis. Those with PD who were enrolled in an exercise program for longer than six months, regardless of the intensity, have shown significant gains in functional balance and mobility when compared to programs of two week to ten week durations. At Functional Mind and Body, there are a variety of classes available either in-person or online, as well as in a group setting or one-on-one personal training. There are classes based around mind and body, mobility, heart health and boxing.
Boxing can be beneficial to all age groups of people with the disease and it can be tailored to meet different needs. Boxing can ease a range of PD symptoms and research suggests that it might be doing more than we realize. In a 2011 study in the journal Physical Therapy showed improvements in walking, balance, performance of daily activities and quality of life in six people who boxed regularly. The resident boxing coach and trainer at Functional Mind and Body is Terrence Francis, a former professional boxer. He has taken his experience and expertise and created a low intensity boxing program meant to engage and stimulate muscles and agility in older adults.
Benefits of Boxing Therapy
- Balance Improvement: In a study found that Parkinson’s patients who participated in two to three 90min boxing therapy sessions over a nine-month period, showed clear improvements in both balance and gait. The footwork involved is also helpful in improving balance.
- Mobility Improvement: This is due to the movements such as stepping in multiple directions or dodging jabs. By changing speeds and staying light on your feet, boxing can greatly impact mobility.
- Muscle Strengthening: Punching bags and punching speed bags can help to improve coordination and posture and punching heavier bags allows for muscle and strength improvements.
It’s All in the Brain
help to improve your thinking ability. Managing stress is crucial to dealing with Parkinson’s symptoms. While stress is a natural part of life, chronic stress can be detrimental. It can worsen symptoms, affect memory and increase or worsen the risk of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Exercising regularly can help manage stress and build the ability to bounce back from stressful situations.
Combined physical activity and brain training can improve cognitive function in older adults. The combining of the two was shown to be more effective in improving cognitive function than physical training alone. This strategy was more beneficial when physical activity and brain training are done together, rather than individually or one after the other. In working with the aging population, Functional Mind and Body, has found that by incorporating cognitive exercises into physical activities, can help to prevent or reduce the chances of developing dementia and help with improving life with declining cognitive functions.
According to some doctors, exercise therapy should be an essential part of therapy in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. As part of a holistic therapy, exercise as a means of improving or maintaining non-motor symptoms such as cognitive function should be acknowledged.
Functional Mind and Body is a wellness and fitness company operating out of Ajax, ON. Functional Mind and Body was founded to aid people to build and maintain a higher quality of life by strengthening their mind and bodies. By incorporating fun brain stimulating games into each one of our workouts, we can help to improve cognitive skills while improving body stability and health.