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Exercise’s Impact on Cognition

It’s not news that the brain changes with age. Significant changes in regions of the brain occur in healthy adults as they age, based on MRI studies.(1) The caudate, cerebellum, hippocampus, and association cortices shrunk substantially. This shrinkage in the hippocampus and the cerebellum accelerates with age. The hippocampus, the site for new memory formation, is involved with learning and emotion with a rich supply of estrogen and progesterone receptors. The cerebellum coordinates voluntary movements including all conscious muscular activity, balance, coordination, and speech.

Incidence of Dementia

The United States is experiencing both a declining birth rate and an increased average life span. This combination will increase the percentage of people over the age of 65 to 19.6%, resulting in a total of 71 million people by the year 2030.(2) The number of people over the age of 80 is also expected to increase to 19.5 million by 2030.(2) These changes will greatly increase the number of people with dementia since 6% to 10% of North American individuals aged 65 or older have dementia; this increases to 30% in those aged 85 or over.(3)

Dementia, or senility, is a difficult-to-define cluster of symptoms that include memory loss, loss of vocabulary, and loss of motor function in the absence of a change in the level of consciousness. Dementia can be measured qualitatively by verbal memory tests such as the Blessed Orientation-Memory-Concentration test, comprising six questions as listed in the following table:

The scores from each of the table’s six items are multiplied to produce a weighted score. Score 1 for each incorrect response; weighted error scores greater than 10 are consistent with dementia.(4)

Exercise Affects the Brain

The incidence of Alzheimer’s dementia can be used as a measurement of brain health.(5) As part of his study “Exercise Is Associated With Reduced Risk for Incident Dementia Among Persons 65 Years of Age and Older,” Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, et al asked 1,740 mentally healthy men and women over the age of 65 how many days per week over the past year they had exercised for at least 15 minutes. The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was significantly higher for individuals who exercised fewer than three times per week (19.7 per 1,000 person-years) compared with those who exercised more than three times per week (13 per 1,000 person-years). These results were not influenced by the E4 alleles on the apolipoprotein gene, which indicates a genetic predisposition for AD.

Laura Podewils et al studied the relationship between physical activity and dementia in 3,375 men and women over the course of 5.4 years.(6) Physical activity in these individuals over the age of 65 was assessed via the Minnesota Leisure Time Questionnaire. The subjects were questioned regarding the frequency and duration of their physical activity over the previous two weeks. Like Larson et al, this study found that increased exercise decreased the incidence of Alzheimer’s dementia.

The Mini-Mental State Exam can be used as a measure of cognitive ability or impairment. The 30-point questionnaire commonly used by health care providers screens for dementia, evaluates cognitive impairment, and follows cognitive change over time, making it an effective way to document an individual’s response to treatment.(7) Kristine Yaffe, MD, et al used the Mini-Mental State Exam to show that cognitive performance increases as the number of blocks walked per week increases.(8) The study involved 5,925 women over the age of 65 over a six- to eight-year period.

The most objective measure of cardiovascular fitness is the measurement of the maximum rate of oxygen consumption as measured during incremental exercise—milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute. A subjective measure of exercise amount or duration is not as accurate as the above direct measure, which is called maximum oxygen consumption or VO2 max. Deborah Barnes, PhD, et al conducted a six-year study of 349 individuals over the age of 55 measuring both VO2 max and subjective measures of fitness. Barnes found only the lower levels of VO2 max correlated with cognitive decline.(9) The four studies mentioned show a positive cognitive benefit from exercise. A meta-analysis performed by Colcombe and Kramer from 1966 to 2001 examined 18 studies of fitness training and cognitive function in nondemented older adults. They concluded that fitness training had a positive influence on cognition.(10)

Prospective controlled human studies provide more robust data than both animal and uncontrolled studies. Stanley J. Colcombe et al were the first to show in a prospective controlled setting that increases in cardiovascular fitness in humans results in increased functioning of the prefrontal and parietal cortices. These data suggest that increased cardiovascular fitness can affect improvements in the plasticity of the aging human brain and may serve to reduce both biological and cognitive senescence in humans.(11) In addition, women tended to exhibit the greater benefit.(12) In a literature review, Kramer et al complemented these data through the use of MRI, which is very accurate in the brain. Through this technique, Kramer and colleagues concluded that older adults who participated in the aerobic training group demonstrated a significant increase in gray matter volume in regions of the frontal and superior temporal lobe when compared with controls. The results suggest that even relatively short exercise interventions can begin to restore some of the losses in brain volume associated with normal aging.(12)

Animal studies offer some insight into how aerobic exercise benefits brain function. Aerobic exercise increases brain function in both young and old animals. Aerobic exercise increases the levels of brain-derived neurogenic factor (BDNF) and insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF-1). BDNF has been shown to regulate neurotransmitters, including dopaminergic and cholinergic systems and may be playing an important role in the exercise-induced effects on the brain.(13) BDNF may be involved in the postexercise changes seen on a brain MRI. In addition, IGF-1 may be mediating the effects of exercise on BDNF, neurogenesis, and cognitive performance. Animal studies provide information on the effects of exercise that is difficult to obtain in human intervention studies. The sum of these animal studies overlaps with results from human studies and suggests that exercise is an effective enhancer of neurocognitive functioning in both young and old animals.(12)

AD, the most common form of dementia, shares many age-related pathophysiological features of type 2 diabetes, including insulin resistance, disrupted glucose metabolism in nonneural tissues, peripheral oxidative and inflammatory stress, amyloid aggregation, neural atrophy, and cognitive decline. Brain insulin resistance appears to be an early and common feature of AD, a phenomenon accompanied by IGF-1 resistance, promoting cognitive decline independent of classic AD pathology.(14) Such a large set of shared features suggests shared etiologies.


High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of endurance training involving short periods of maximal effort followed by periods of maintenance or recovery effort. What can differ is the timing and type of endurance exercise. A typical cycling HIIT pattern may be four to six maximal 30-second cycling sprints separated by 4.5-minute recovery periods of comfortable cycling. When HIIT is compared with longer steady endurance training, the HIIT patterns show increased mitochondrial density in muscle cells and greater muscle performance improvements.(15,16)

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This article was featured in Today’s Geriatric Medicine.

Today’s Geriatric Medicine is a bimonthly trade publication offering news and insights for professionals in elder care.

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This article was featured in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Today’s Geriatric Medicine (Vol. 9 No. 1 P. 26). Written by Robert Drapkin, MD

Robert Drapkin, MD, a medical oncologist and competitive bodybuilder in Clearwater, Florida, specializes in helping elderly adults achieve a healthful lifestyle to combat illnesses or disease and to extend lifespan.



1. Raz N, Lindenberger U, Rodrigue KM, et al. Regional brain changes in aging healthy adults: general trends, individual differences and modifiers. Cereb Cortex. 2005;15(11):1676-1689.

2. Chapman DP, Williams SM, Strine TW, Anda RF, Moore MJ. Dementia and its implications for public health. Prev Chronic Dis. 2006;3(2):A34.

3. Hendrie HC. Epidemiology of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 1998;6(2 Suppl 1):S3-S18.

4. The Blessed Orientation-Memory-Concentration Test. University of Missouri Geriatric Examination Tool Kit website. http://geriatrictoolkit.missouri.edu/cog/bomc.pdf.

5. Larson EB, Wang L, Bowen JD, et al. Exercise is associated with reduced risk for incident dementia among persons 65 years of age and older. Ann Intern Med. 2006;144(2):73-81.

6. Podewils LJ, Guallar E, Kuller LH, et al. Physical activity, APOE genotype, and dementia risk: findings from the Cardiovascular Health Cognition Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2005;161(7):639-651.

7. Pangman VC, Sloan J, Guse L. An examination of psychometric properties of the mini-mental state examination and the standardized mini-mental state examination: implications for clinical practice. Appl Nurs Res. 2000;13(4):209-213.

8. Yaffe K, Barnes D, Nevitt M, Lui LY, Covinsky K. A prospective study of physical activity and cognitive decline in elderly women: women who walk. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(14):1703-1708.

9. Barnes DE, Yaffe K, Satariano WA, Tager IB. A longitudinal study of cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in healthy older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003;51(4):459-465.

10. Colcombe S, Kramer AF. Fitness effects on the cognitive function of older adults: a meta-analytic study. Psychol Sci. 2003;14(2):125-130.

11. Colcombe SJ, Kramer AF, Erickson KI, et al. Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004;101(9):3316-3321.

12. Kramer AF, Erickson KI, Colcombe SJ. Exercise, cognition, and the aging brain. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006;101(4):1237-1242.

13. Knüsel B, Winslow JW, Rosenthal A, et al. Promotion of central cholinergic and dopaminergic neuron differentiation by brain-derived neurotrophic factor but not neurotrophin 3. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991;88(3):961-965.

14. Talbot K, Wang HY, Kazi H, et al. Demonstrated brain insulin resistance in Alzheimer’s disease patients is associated with IGF-1 resistance, IRS-1 dysregulation, and cognitive decline. J Clin Invest. 2012;122(4):1316-1338.

15. Gibala M. Molecular responses to high-intensity interval exercise. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009;34(3):428-432.

16. Billat VL. Interval training for performance: a scientific and empirical practice. Special recommendations for middle- and long-distance running. Part I: anaerobic interval training. Sports Med. 2001;31(1):13-31.


Can a Pregnant Woman Safely Continue her Pre-Pregnancy Workout Routine?

A regular exercise routine has become a way of life for many women, and many choose to continue their exercise routines when they become pregnant.  Research in the field of maternal fitness has shown that exercise during a non-complicated pregnancy is healthy for both mom and baby and may help prevent or reduce some of the physical problems associated with pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

Although exercise is a positive addition to a healthy pregnancy, there are established guidelines that help ensure that a woman’s exercise program is safe and effective.  First and foremost, it is important for a pregnant woman to consult with her healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.  She should bring a list of questions regarding her exercise program and provide an overview of what type, intensity, frequency, and duration of exercise she would like to do.  This enables her healthcare provider to accurately assess whether the fitness program is appropriate for her pregnancy.

Each woman’s level of fitness and health is different, as is each pregnancy. There are several points to consider when choosing to continue a fitness program during pregnancy.  Some types of exercise are more easily continued during pregnancy, and common sense, safety, and comfort all play a role in deciding whether an activity should be part of a prenatal fitness program.

Choosing the type of exercise that will be safe and effective during pregnancy can be determined by reviewing the following points:

  • What activities does she enjoy or are skilled at doing?
  • Does the activity pose an increased risk of falls or blunt abdominal injury?
  • Is she able to do the activity without being compromised by balance and center of gravity changes?
  • Can the activity be easily modified as pregnancy progresses?
  • Does common sense conclude that this is a safe activity to continue during pregnancy?

Research on prenatal exercise has suggested that greater benefits are achieved by including sustained, weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, stationary stepping/elliptical machine, or dance classes in a prenatal fitness program.  However, some women may not tolerate weight-bearing exercise during pregnancy and are more comfortable with non-weight bearing activities such as swimming and stationary biking.

There are several activities, such as scuba diving and water skiing, that are never safe to do during pregnancy.  Other activities, such as downhill skiing, horseback riding, and sports with a chance of abdominal impact may also be too risky for most women to continue during pregnancy.

Here are a few tips for keeping a prenatal exercise routine safe:

  • Pregnant women need to add 300 calories to their daily food intake to meet the needs of pregnancy. If she is physically active, she may need to increase that amount if she’s not gaining weight normally. The number of extra calories needed depends on the intensity and duration and frequency of the exercise program.  It is important to drink 8-10 cups of water each day and increase that amount during hot and humid weather.
  • Exercise in heat and humidity can be dangerous. It is safest to exercise in an air-conditioned facility during the summer months. If she does choose to exercise outdoors during warm weather, she should avoid the high heat times between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm and reduce intensity and duration to prevent overheating.
  • She should frequently monitor herself during exercise for signs of overheating, such as dizziness, faintness, or nausea. Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to replace the fluids lost will help prevent dehydration and overheating. Hot tubs and saunas may cause core temperature to rise to unsafe levels and should be avoided.

A simple method for monitoring intensity level during prenatal exercise is to assess how hard the exercise feels.  A pregnant woman should feel that her exercise level is moderate to somewhat hard.  If she feels out of breath or is unable to talk (termed the “talk test”), she is working at too high a level and should decrease intensity or stop and rest. Her exercise level should feel challenging but not so difficult that she feels exhausted during and/or afterward.

Self-assessment is one of the best ways for a pregnant woman to monitor her exercise program and assure herself that her activity level is safe. A pregnant woman should review the following questions several times each month and follow up with her healthcare provider if she experiences any problems.

  • Do you and your healthcare provider feel that you are gaining weight normally?
  • Do you feel well physically and mentally?
  • Are you able to comfortably follow your exercise program without pain, exhaustion, or problems following exercise?
  • Do you experience chronic or extreme exhaustion?
  • If you are at the point in pregnancy where you are consistently feeling fetal movement, have you noticed any change in the pattern or amount of your baby’s movements?
  • Does your baby move at least two times within 20-30 minutes following exercise?
  • Was your last abdominal fundal height measurement (a measurement of fetal growth) or ultrasound assessment within normal limits, and is your baby progressing normally at each medical check?
  • Does your healthcare provider have any concern regarding the health of your pregnancy?

Pregnant women who continue a challenging level of exercise need to be aware of signs or symptoms that indicate overwork, such as an elevated resting heart rate, frequent illness, lack of weight gain, depression and chronic exhaustion.   She should decrease or stop her exercise program during illness, when fatigued, under excessive stress or if experiencing any complications with her pregnancy.

Prenatal exercise should enhance pregnancy and help to make a woman’s postpartum recovery smoother.  The best advice for the athletic woman who wants to continue her fitness program during pregnancy is to use common sense, listen to her body, and enjoy all the challenges and changes this incredible experience offers.

Catherine Cram started her company, Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Consulting, in order to provide current, evidence- based guidelines maternal fitness guidelines to health and fitness professionals. She was a contributing author for the textbook, Women’s Health in Physical Therapy and co-authored the revision of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy with Dr. James Clapp.  Her company offers the certification course, “Prenatal and Postpartum Exercise Design” which provides continuing education credits for over 30 health and fitness organization, including ACSM, ACE, ICEA, and Lamaze.


Creatine: The athlete’s supplement of choice can boost anyone’s fitness plan and health goals

Long trusted by athletes and bodybuilders to help improve athletic performance, the muscle strength supplement creatine remains either unknown or shrouded in myth among the wider population.  But increasingly creatine is being recognized by the medical community for the benefits it can bring beyond just athletic performance.  From assisting in injury recovery to helping reduce the risk of falls in the elderly, creatine is a natural, safe, and effective tool all of us can use…

Gut Health Kathryn Parker

Stress and Gut Health: 5 Tips for a Happier Gut and Calmer Life

The human gut is an amazing entity. It’s home to a vast network of nerves, neural transmitters and thousands of different microflora that keep our bodies up and running. It’s so complex that scientists sometimes call it “the second brain”. It’s no surprise that stress and gut health are closely connected. Your gut can influence your moods just as much as your brain, too. Scientists are still learning how this incredibly complex system works, and there are still many things that we don’t know. We do know, however, that because the brain and gut interplay with each other, changes in one can affect the other.

High levels of stress in your body can inhibit digestion, lower your immune system and even lead to the breakdown of your intestinal lining. This can cause short term problems like diarrhea, heartburn, gas and stomach pains, or lead to more severe problems later on, like leaky gut syndrome or IBS. That’s why it’s essential to keep your stress levels under control if you want to improve your gut health.

Here’s what you need to know about the brain-gut connection, along with our best tips for keeping your stress levels low and your gut bacteria content.

The Brain-Gut Connection: How stress affects the digestive system

We’ve barely scratched the surface in understanding the complex relationship of how the brain and the gut communicate to affect our moods. But here’s what we do know. Our digestive tract is home to thousands of different species of microbes all working together. This complex system works to break down the nutrients in our food, keep our immune system strong and produce hormones that keep our bodies operational. And what you put into your gut can directly affect how you feel.

Serotonin, the happiness hormone, is actually produced in the gut. It’s created by breaking down the essential amino acid tryptophan and is sent to your brain via the vagus nerve. Tryptophan is found in many whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy and seeds. It’s one of many ways that a healthy diet can help you stay happy.

But there’s another hormone your body produces that doesn’t always make you feel good: cortisol. When your body experiences stress or discomfort, your brain triggers the adrenal gland to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Excess levels of cortisol have been linked to everything from weight gain and gastrointestinal problems to a suppressed immune system and cardiovascular diseases.

We can’t always control the things that stress us out, but we can take control of how we react to those stresses. Adopting healthy habits can help lower your cortisol levels naturally, helping you heal both your brain and your gut.

5 Tips to Strengthen your Brain-Gut Connection

1. Eat whole foods

The number one thing you can do to keep your gut thriving is to eat a diet filled with whole foods. The highly-processed foods that make up the majority of our western diet lack the necessary nutrients and fiber our gut microbes need to stay healthy.

This can lead to them dying off in mass quantities, which weakens your immune system and leaves you susceptible to disease. Whole, unrefined foods like fruits and vegetables are the perfect fuel for your gut’s vast network of microflora. Their rich quantities of fiber promote proper digestion to keep your gut working properly, and a happy gut usually leads to a happy mind. It’s also important to understand the difference between good and bad sugars.

2. Stop stress-eating

When we’re feeling stressed, the first thing most of us do is reach for our favorite candy or snack food to fill the void. It’s called stress-eating, and it’s a common coping mechanism for the chaos in our modern world. But although that burst of satisfaction feels good in the moment, eating sweets can exacerbate your stress-induced stomach issues in the long-term.

Foods high in refined sugar and unhealthy fats increase inflammation in the body. This sends your stress levels even higher and only worsens the problem you’re trying to cure. While there is something to be said for finding comfort in your favorite foods, stress-eating usually means you aren’t taking the time to properly enjoy your food. There’s a big difference between eating one cookie as a treat versus five because you’re eating your feelings.

The next time you find yourself craving a brownie after a stressful conversation, remember that eating sugar will only stress your belly even further. Save your indulgences for times when you can actually enjoy them instead.

3. Meditate

The brain and the gut are so intricately connected that calming the brain also can calm the gut. Practicing mindfulness meditation can lower levels of cortisol in the body. These lowered stress levels can lead to improved digestion, which keeps your gut in good shape.

Taking the time to clear your mind of life’s worries can also help you be more calm and understanding in your daily life. Mindfulness meditation practices have even been proven to help with depression and anxiety, which can exacerbate other health conditions. Try meditating for just a few minutes a day and see if you feel any improvements to your nervous stomach. Here is more on meditation to get you started.

4. Exercise

Working up a sweat is also an excellent way to deal with stress. In addition to obvious benefits like weight-loss and stronger muscles, exercise triggers the release of serotonin, which can lower stress levels. Even a 20-minute stroll outside can do the trick to get the serotonin flowing. Just be careful to pace yourself, and be sure not to overdo it.

5. Get more sleep

Sleep is the essential time period when our bodies take time to recharge every day. Getting a good night’s rest can improve your cognitive performance and help fight off Alzheimer’s disease. Getting adequate rest is also important for lowering stress levels, and you can improve the quality of your sleep by improving your diet.

Eating foods high in tryptophan helps your gut produce serotonin and also leads to the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Higher levels of melatonin can dramatically improve the quality of your rest, which can work to lower stress in your body. If you want to get a better night’s sleep, try eating more fruits and vegetables during the day.

The Bottom Line

Stress and gut health are closely linked. Eating healthy whole foods is one of the best things you can do to reduce your stress levels and stomach issues. Treats may be enjoyed in moderation, but not to fill an emotional void or coping mechanism for stress.

Originally printed on Aviv Clinics blog. Reprinted with permission.

Kathryn Parker is the Registered Dietitian for Aviv Clinics, located in Central Florida. Her work as a dietitian has helped many over her extensive career including college and Olympic athletes, city employees, one of the largest worldwide entertainment company’s staff members and diabetics in an academic health center. In her effort to make America healthier, Kathryn has instituted wellness programs for large organizations as well as counseling clients one-on-one. Most notably, Kathryn developed the LifeQuest fitness program for the city of Gainesville, wining the city a platinum Well Workplace award from the Wellness Council of America, an honor shared by only nine employers nationwide.


Aronson, D. (2009). Cortisol – Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy. Today’s Dietitian. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml.

Heijnen, S., Hommel, B., Kibele, A., & Colzato, L. S. (2016). Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01890

Miller. (2021, June 14). Meditation and Brain Health: Benefits Backed by Science. Aviv Clinics USA. https://aviv-clinics.com/blog/brain-health/meditation-and-brain-health-benefits-backed-by-science/.

Parker, K. (2021, June 13). How Does Sugar Affect the Brain? Aviv Clinics USA. https://aviv-clinics.com/blog/brain-health/how-does-sugar-affect-the-brain/.

Parker, K. (2021, May 23). The Gut-Brain Connection. Aviv Clinics USA. https://aviv-clinics.com/blog/nutrition/the-gut-brain-connection/.

Rooks, M. G., & Garrett, W. S. (2016). Gut microbiota, metabolites and host immunity. Nature Reviews Immunology, 16(6), 341–352. https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.42

Turakitwanakan, W., Mekseepralard, C., & Busarakumtragul, P. (2013). Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = Chotmaihet thangphaet96 Suppl 1, S90–S95.

Lori M Self Evaluation

A Self-Evaluation To Do at Home

Take notice before your muscles begin to evaporate, and you need someone else to take charge.

Here are some questions, allowing you to make a self-evaluation, which can help you decide if you need assistance.

  1. Can you walk 50 feet in 12 seconds? This benchmark is a good indicator of the ability to walk for exercise. If you can’t, it’s time to think about ways to get moving.
  2. Can you walk 400 meters (a little less than a quarter mile) in just over five minutes? For endurance, the threshold is walking 400 meters or about one lap around a high-school track.
  3. Can you stand up from a chair five times in 11 seconds or less? This is a way to assess lower body strength needed for numerous tasks climbing stairs, walking, getting out of a chair or car, picking something up off the floor, getting off the toilet, or stepping out of a tub.
  4. Can you walk 10,000 steps a day? If you can achieve this benchmark, good for you. Studies have shown that it can help protect people from osteoarthritis and from developing mobility problems.
  5. Can you stand still with one foot directly in front of the other for 10 seconds without tipping over? If you didn’t sway or step out, great. Practice more complicated moves by continuing to take ten steps in a straight line without losing your balance. (Click here to take my Balance Quiz.)

Exercise is for everyone. But the truth is, some people, especially seniors, lack the range of motion, strength and flexibility to exercise. That’s especially true for those just starting out.

Assessment tools used by personal trainers are designed to meet the basic criteria that helps to measure physical fitness parameters and functions needed to accomplish activities of daily living.

Reprinted with permission from Lori Michiel. 

Lori Michiel, NASM, has been assisting seniors in their homes since 2006 with customized exercise programs including those designed to address Parkinson’s, metabolic disorders, arthritis and diabetes. These adaptive programs are specifically designed to improve balance, circulation, flexibility, mobility and promote independence. Lori Michiel Fitness has over 40 certified trainers who are matched with clients in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange Counties. Connect with Lori at www.LoriMichielFitness.com.


Active Aging Fitness

The future will see an increased proportion of elderly people throughout all modern societies. It is estimated by the WHO (World Health Organization) that in the year 2050 there will be equally as many elderly people in the world as there are children (1).  Not only will there be more elderly people but the perception of being old will also continue to change. Previously, age was seen as a natural weakness process and reduction in lifestyle options.


Healthy Aging and You: The Power of Strength Training

I recently thought about why we exercise and what we choose to do first – and it isn’t generally strength training. Why is that? I believe it’s because we feel we CAN’T do something about becoming stronger unless we join a gym – and then we always seem to gravitate to cardio exclusively as if that is all we can do. We want to lose weight, feel better about ourselves, burn stored fat or just increase our energy level, but what if there was a better way?

fitness tracker

3 Pros vs. 3 Cons of Wearable Fitness Trackers – Are Any Right for You?

Fitness trackers are some of the hottest tech gadgets on the market. They can measure your daily steps count, monitor your heart rate, log how many calories you’ve eaten, and even analyze your sleep quality. Some models can read your blood oxygen levels and use GPS technology to keep track of your running, walking, or biking route. Many people swear by making this type of “wearable” technology a part of their daily routines.

But is there any merit to all this hype?

Are fitness trackers a passing trend or a worthy addition to your health and exercise routine?

Why wear a fitness tracker?

We all know that it’s important to exercise regularly, especially as we age. Studies have shown that physical activity can extend longevity, prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke, and combat the onset of dementia. Having a regular exercise routine is an important part of keeping your body feeling young and in shape. The trouble is that many people struggle with keeping up a consistent workout routine. This is where fitness trackers come in.

Fitness trackers are wearable health devices designed to monitor your activity level. They come in all shapes and sizes, from simple models that are little more than glorified pedometers to advanced smartwatches that can track your body’s vital signs in micro detail.

Tracking your fitness activity also can be an important step to taking charge of your health because it makes people more conscious of their health. Having a log of your activity level and vital signs can also be a valuable tool to share with your doctor or personal trainer. Seeing hard data makes it easier to create a sustainable routine you can stick to.

The Pros of Using a Fitness Tracker

Helps build routine

For many people, blindly exercising without any way to track their progress can be frustrating. It can be hard to find the motivation to get moving when you have no way of knowing if your efforts are working. Wearing a fitness tracker allows you to see your progress in real-time and make adjustments. If you track 5,000 steps a day, you can make it a goal to gradually increase to the recommended 10,000 steps per day. It can be motivating to see your numbers improve, which makes it easier to stick to your routine.

Motivates you to move more

Most of us spend far more time than we’d like to on the couch. Sitting too much can be deadly. It’s a good rule of thumb to get up and move for 15 minutes for every hour that you spend sitting down. Many fitness trackers come with built-in reminders for this exact reason, helping you remember to get up and move throughout the day.

Keeps track of your dietary choices

Many fitness trackers offer ways to input your daily food and water intake via the connected apps. Keeping track helps make sure that you’re getting adequate nutrition. Studies have shown that tracking your food intake can lead to weight loss, even without following a specific diet plan. The information can also help a dietitian or a personal trainer get an idea of your daily meal plan. They can use this data to help you formulate a healthy diet, and logging your choices regularly can help you stick to it.

The Cons of Using a Fitness Tracker

Can be overwhelming

Some people may find the amount of data to be overwhelming. Many devices offer far more options than the average person needs, and the high cost of some premium models means they may not be an ideal investment. Those who are less technically savvy may also find the device’s smartphone app frustrating to use, or simply not worth the trouble.

Ask yourself what’s most important to you to keep track of — such as your heart rate, number of steps and estimated number of calories burned — then look for models that only track those features. You’ll save money and save your brain from information overload.

May lead to obsessive behavior

The detailed stats that a fitness tracker provides can be a tremendous motivation for some people. But for others, this may open a gateway to obsessive behavior. Many people can’t help but fixate on obtaining perfect stats, and may push themselves too hard to achieve them. The number on the screen is only a best estimation of your daily activity, not a measure of your self-worth! It’s also worth noting that fitness trackers are not medically accurate with their stats, and there can be vast discrepancies between different models.

Not as useful in the long-run

While a fitness tracker can be a valuable tool to motivate you in the early stages of your fitness journey, they’re not as useful for keeping the weight off in the long-run. Surveys have shown that around ⅓ of people who buy fitness trackers stop wearing their devices after six months. Other studies have found that they’re not as helpful for losing weight as most people would believe. A randomized trial by the Journal of American Medicine found that people who didn’t wear a fitness tracker actually lost around 8 pounds more on average compared to their device-wearing counterparts.

Does that mean that wearing a fitness tracking device will inhibit your progress? Not necessarily. Those in the study who wore the trackers still saw improvements to their body composition and physical fitness thanks to their new diet and exercise routines. That’s because the trick to living a healthy lifestyle is finding a routine that works and sticking to it. If the fitness tracker helps you do this, excellent! If not, another method of motivation might be better for you.

The Best Alternatives to Fitness Trackers

It’s worth noting that shelling out hundreds of dollars for a fitness tracker isn’t the only way to monitor your health. If you want to get an idea of what your heart rate is like while exercising, try this simple experiment: go for a brisk 30-minute walk around your neighborhood. When you get to the halfway point, try singing one of your favorite songs. If you can sing it perfectly without any hesitation, up the pace.

You can also set “stand up and move” reminders on your watch or smartphone. For tracking your food intake, there are a number of apps available to let you log your daily meals. Some people enjoy keeping a physical food journal rather than going with a purely digital route. You can always experiment until you find the right method.

The Bottom Line

When used correctly, a fitness tracker can be a helpful tool that offers detailed feedback on your body’s activity level and other aspects of your health. If you need an extra boost to get moving or want to keep a close eye on your progress, they can be a worthwhile investment. However, if you have a tendency to obsess over small details or don’t need the extensive data that a fitness tracker provides, another option might be better to track your progress. Ultimately, how you choose to track your activity is your choice. Whatever option you choose, the important thing is that you keep moving and stay active at a healthy level.

Originally printed on aviv-clinics.com. Reprinted with permission.

Aviv Clinics delivers a highly effective, science-based treatment protocol to enhance brain performance and improve the cognitive and physical symptoms of conditions such as traumatic brain injuries, fibromyalgia, Lyme, and dementia.

Our intensive treatment protocol uses Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and cognitive and physical training as well as nutrition management for better brain health. The medical program closely tracks clients’ progress before, during, and after the treatment protocol, using customized tablets and other technology. Based on over a decade of research and development, the Aviv Medical Program is holistic and customized to your needs.

Aaron Tribby, M.Ed is Head of Physiology for Aviv Clinics where he is responsible for managing a team of physiologists, physical therapists, dietitians, and stress technicians at Aviv Clinics – the first hyperbaric medical treatment center of its kind in North America dedicated to improving brain performance. He also oversees the cardiopulmonary exercise tests and CPET in the clinic, responsible for analyzing each test. Leading to Aviv Clinics, his clinical experience is focused on health and wellness, strength and conditioning and nutrition within both the non-profits and private sectors including Mercy Hospital and MusclePharm, respectively.



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