In an era where neurological disorders and mental illness run rampant, effective and scalable non-pharmacological interventions are desperately needed. Luckily, science continues to demonstrate the efficacy of exercise-based interventions in improving cognitive, neurobiological, and mental health outcomes in a variety of populations. Multiple modalities of exercise, such as aerobic training and resistance training, continue to demonstrate improvements in several measures associated with brain health. While aerobic exercise has received a majority of the spotlight over the past couple of decades, other forms of exercise have also moved to the forefront of the exercise-neuroscience literature.
Humanity is racing toward a brain-health crisis, according to the World Health Organization. The number of people with dementia is expected to triple in the next three decades.
The helpful news from WHO is this: Exercise plays a key role in fighting cognitive decline and dementia.
So, those of us in the fitness industry have a greater chance than ever to make a big impact by including brain health in our training and interactions with people over 50.
That’s the message of Ryan Glatt, a brain health coach at the Pacific Brain Health Center. Ryan and the Functional Aging Institute worked together to bring you the Brain Health Trainer Certification. It’s a unique program that teaches about the connections between brain and body health – and about how fitness professionals can help mature adults with both.
“We can play a significant role in delivering exercise interventions for the primary outcome of brain health, and not just as a secondary benefit of exercising,” Ryan says. “We need to do more.”
Fitness professionals have three steps to follow, he says.
- Educating the public about the cognitive benefits of exercise.
- Referring people with possible cognitive decline to doctors for early intervention – much like physical therapists refer patients to relevant medical professionals.
- Building exercise programming to create primary brain-health results.
Trainers need to encourage clients to have a well-rounded exercise routine that includes balance, resistance training, and cardio work. It helps to know how some activities can have specific benefits on memory, attention and other brain functions. That includes, for instance, dance, sports and martial arts, which involve some level of choreography, which is good for the memory.
Even in initial assessments with prospective clients, fitness pros can learn to raise the topic, Ryan says. For example, if a prospect in her 50s says she wants to lose weight, you can bring up the topic of brain health even at that early stage. “There’s a growing body of research that links exercise to brain health,” you might say. “Does that sound like something you’d like to work on, as well?”
That can open the conversation to topics that might indicate a referral is necessary – or help you build a fitness program to address them.
“We like to tell people that exercise will help them be able to play with their grandkids,” Ryan points out. “But we can also help train them so that they also can remember their grandkids’ names better.”
Join Ryan Glatt for the upcoming webinar on this topic, Cognitive Fitness: Modifying Your Exercise Variables for Brain-Based Outcomes
Brain health is a big, rich topic that we’re going to be hearing more about. Any fitness professional helping mature people live well should be educated on how to help with their brain health, too.
Ryan Glatt, FAFS, BSc is a psychometrist and Brain Health Coach at the Brain Health Center in the Pacific Neuroscience Institute. With a strong background in exercise science and human health, Ryan develops curricula specifically targeted towards those with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and traumatic brain injury, coaching individuals towards optimal brain health. He is the author of the Brain Health Trainer Course with Functional Aging Institute.