Hide

Error message here!

Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive a link to create a new password.

Error message here!

Back to log-in

Close
brain

Neuroplasticity and the Aging Brain

One of the greatest concerns for the aging population is cognitive decline which leads to loss of independence as well as an extreme burden on the caretakers.  Individuals worldwide are fearful of being diagnosed with any of the various cognitive issues: Dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of cognitive debilities.  In 2015 there was an estimated 47 million people living with dementia and this number is expected to triple by 2050.  In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Association reported that they believe there is sufficient evidence to support the link between several modifiable risk factors and a reduced risk for cognitive decline and sufficient evidence to suggest that some modifiable risk factors may be associated with reduced risk of dementia. Specifically, that regular physical activity and management of cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension) reduce the risk of cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia. The Association also believes there is sufficiently strong evidence to conclude that a healthy diet and lifelong learning/cognitive training may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Positive association between aerobic exercise or CV fitness and executive functions is highly consistent but cannot determine causality.  Aerobic exercise (AE) has shown moderate to medium sized effects on executive function and memory. Resistance Training (RT) has improved executive function and memory. Combined AE and RT has the biggest (potentially synergistic) effect. It has been proposed that the physical and cognitive exercise might interact to induce larger functional benefits.  Larger benefits on cognitive test performance were noted for combined physical and cognitive activity than for each activity alone.  “Claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading. … To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life (Consensus statement, 2014).

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize and rebuild itself by forming new neural connections. The more neural pathways you have, the more resilient your brain is. Neurogenesis is the process of creating new neurons (brain cells).

Contrary to popular belief, neurogenesis continuously occurs in the adult brain under the right conditions such as with exercise.  Substantial benefits on cognitive test performance were noted for combined physical and cognitive activity than for each activity alone. It was also noted that the physical and cognitive exercise together might interact to induce larger functional benefits.  “We assume, that physical exercise increases the potential for neurogenesis and synaptogenesis while cognitive exercise guides it to induce positive plastic change” (Bamidis, 2014).  To maximize cognitive improvement, combine physical exercise with cognitive challenges in a rich sensorimotor environment that includes social interaction and a heaping dose of fun.

Brain health is becoming extremely important as individuals live longer.  Today there is much more information available on how to train the aging brain.

Some great resources are:


Dianne McCaughey Ph.D. is an award winning fitness specialist with more than 35 years experience in personal training, group exercise, coaching, and post-rehabilitation. She is a master trainer for multiple companies and practices and teaches optimal wellness emphasizing the mind, body and spirit. She works with special populations and focuses on posture, gait, balance and corrective exercise programs for better function and health.

Cody Sipe, PhD, has an extensive background in the fitness industry with 20 years of experience as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, program director, exercise physiologist and club owner. He is currently an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Research in the physical therapy program at Harding University. He is the co-founder and vice president of the Functional Aging Institute (FAI).

 

baby-boomers2

Successful Aging with Positive Thinking

This article was written with the intent to inform as well as inspire trainers, coaches and other practitioners who work with the aging population. As a gerontologist who studied the evolution of reflective wisdom, I am intrigued by famous quotes from years past. Henry Ford once said: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” The aging process should be an enriching experience that involves our appreciation of our personal significance. However for many, it is a time of loneliness, depression, isolation and purposelessness.  Is this purely due to circumstances, our outlook, or a combination of both?

We have approximately 60,000 thoughts daily and 80% of them will be present tomorrow. Our thoughts and beliefs generate our feelings and emotions, our emotions drive our actions, and our actions create our outcomes. So there might be something to the statement – “Think positive and change your thoughts because it can change your world”. There are some studies looking at the possibility of meditation and gene expression. That in turn raises the intriguing possibility of dodging our supposed genetic destiny by changing our thoughts and attitudes which affect our mental and emotional stress. Positive emotions are an essential daily requirement for successful aging. Not only do they improve our physical and mental health, they provide a buffer against depression and illness. Science shows that people who are happy – live longer and have healthier lives. It was also noted that positive people are 50% less likely to have heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke and that increasing positive emotions could lengthen life span by 10 years.

Over 60 % of US centenarians called themselves “Positive People”

Even though Positive psychology has been around for 20 years, it seems to be absent in our conversations and teachings. Dr. Seligman did not want to focus on the negative issues but instead the positive. Positive psychology is “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”, or “the scientific study of positive behavior and thriving on various levels that include the cultural, personal, physical, social, and comprehensive dimensions of life.” This way of thinking is concerned with “the good life”, consideration about what is our ultimate value in life – the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. Positive psychologists note many ways to cultivate happiness. Happiness can achieved with a productive and meaningful existence. Social connections with family, friends and networks become more important as we age. Physical exercise in numerous methods and the practice of meditation may also contribute to happiness.

Those who practice positive psychology use affirmative attitudes toward one’s personal experiences, and life events. The objective is to minimize negative thoughts that may arise in hopelessness, and instead, cultivate positivity toward life. This method encourages the acceptance of one’s past, enthusiasm about one’s future, and a sense of desire and gratitude in the present.

Margaret Lee Runbeck states, “Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.”

According to Andrew Weil, MD, healthy aging includes an ethical will which is pertinent to those of us “concerned with making sense of our lives, giving back, and leaving a legacy”. It is a way to express optimism for future generations. An ethical will could be in many forms such as a letter, card, book, project, etc.  The ethical will includes:

  • A way to leave something behind, to be remembered
  • A way to document your history and stories for others to learn from in the future
  • A way to help you understand your own values and to share your ideals with future generations
  • A way to help you learn more about yourself
  • A way to help you accept mortality and create a way to ‘live on’ after you are gone
  • A way to provide an immediate sense of worthiness, completion, and accomplishment

Death is inevitable and aging wisdom is the process of our coming to terms with losses and changes.   We must focus on the life in our years not the years in our life, as well as passing down our pearls of wisdom from our years of learning and experiences. This in itself gives us purpose.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, champagne in one hand – strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming… WOO HOO!!! WHAT A RIDE!!!” 

May you live all they days of your life and may your life live on forever.


Dianne McCaughey Ph.D. is an award winning fitness specialist with more than 35 years experience in personal training, group exercise, coaching, and post-rehabilitation. She is a master trainer for multiple companies and practices and teaches optimal wellness emphasizing the mind, body and spirit. She works with special populations and focuses on posture, gait, balance and corrective exercise programs for better function and health.