January 16, 2007
Table of Contents
Keeping Our Wits About Us! (Introduction to brainy special issue)
How's Your Brain Health? (Free cognition testing)
Body Exercise for Mental Fitness (Smart aging)
A 10-Step Healthy Brain Plan (Stay sharp in 2007)
Mental Exercises (How to discourage dementia)
Get Certified in 2007 (Intellectual stimulation for SFA members only)
SFA Members can access "Experience!" online at www.SeniorFitness.net/Experience.htm
Keeping Our Wits About Us!
About 20 years ago when the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) was under development, its founders envisioned an organization primarily devoted to the benefits of physical exercise during the aging process. And that's still true today -- except with a little expansion of our perspective!
Medical research conducted over the past two decades has really driven home the point that the human body's systems are interrelated. That is, physical health has an influence on mental health; brain function is associated with general health; physical exercise can improve the performance of organs like the heart and lungs, while also elevating our mood and enhancing our memory skills!
In today's issue of Experience! we're starting off the new year with several articles that contain advice for preserving brain health all year through. But we are setting our sights higher than that: When we wind up the year 2007, eleven months from now, let's leave it with even better brain function than we began it with!
How's Your Brain Health?
Be among the first one million users of the new WebNeuro cognition test and get your brain function evaluated for free! The test is available on the Alliance for Aging Research website, and you can access it by clicking here www.agingresearch.org.
The WebNeuro cognition test is being offered jointly by the Brain Resource Company and the Alliance for Aging Research. It's a half hour long test that you can take anonymously on the internet at home. Afterwards, you will receive a personalized report that compares your performance to the norms for people of your age and gender. It addresses general cognition as well as emotion function. Of course, the test is only a screening tool, not a diagnostic or treatment instrument, so participants concerned about their test results are referred to their primary care physician for assessment.
The WebNeuro cognition test is well-designed for detecting changes in brain function over time. So, if desired, test-users can repeat the test periodically in order to monitor their brain's ongoing health status.
The developers of this test note that promising new research points to the brain's apparent capacity to improve its functioning. Also, whereas certain cognitive processes such as memory tend to decline with aging, others such as emotion processing actually appear to improve.
Remember, the WebNeuro test is only free for the first million users and only through May 14, 2007. After that, there will be a fee to take it. The link for the test is given above. Two additional links you may wish to click on are www.brainresource.com/webneuro/about.jsp (for more information about the test) and www.agingresearch.org/brainhealth (for tips from the Alliance for Aging Research on improving brain health, which we'll also summarize for you below in this issue of Experience!).
Body Exercise for Mental Fitness
Physical activity provides a multi-pronged approach to nurturing brain health, according to experts quoted in a recent HealthDay report by E.J. Mundell. In fact, exercise may be our strongest weapon against depression, unhealthy stress levels, chemical addictions, and maybe even Alzheimer's disease.
Regarding depression: Psychology professor James Maddux of George Mason University told HealthDay that exercise might be the best non-pharmacological antidepressant available, that research has shown it to be more effective than some medications, and that it can also act as an excellent anti-anxiety intervention.
Regarding stress: Mundell quotes Dr. Marc Seigel of the New York University School of Medicine as saying, "Stress is a build-up of inactivity, of over-thinking without release. But exercise gives you a physical release that diminishes that psychic frustration."
Regarding addiction: When Brown University researchers compared two groups of women seeking to stop smoking, those who worked out were more than twice as likely to avoid tobacco for at least a year compared to those who attended a stop-smoking program lacking exercise.
Regarding Alzheimer's disease: Physical activity may help to ward off dementia by increasing cerebrovascular blood circulation. "There's no question that exercise improves blood flow to the brain," Dr. Siegel told HealthDay. As has been previously reported by SFA's Experience! newsletter, recent research shows that older adults who exercise three or more days per week may reduce their odds of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 40 percent.
A 10-Step Healthy Brain Plan
More from the Alliance for Aging Research: Here are its 10 recommendations for improving the health of our brains.
1. Take family history into account. If genetic factors might place you at an increased risk for dementia, begin working with your personal physician now to avoid, postpone, or impede the progress of cognitive decline.
2. Manage other health problems. Hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes can affect brain health. So follow healthy habits that can help you to avoid the development of such conditions. If disease is already present, obtain qualified medical care to help control it.
3. Beware of heavy alcohol use, tobacco, and recreational drugs. All increase the risk for dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.
4. Eat brain foods! A brain-healthy diet will be low in trans fats and will include proper levels of carbohydrates and proteins. Enjoy generous servings of vegetables and fruits. Be sure to include vitamin B, omega-3 fatty acids (prevalent in fish), and antioxidants. Here's a heads-up from the last Experience! issue: Black currants, cranberries, and apricots are terrific sources of antioxidants.
5. Protect your head. Brain injury is associated with higher dementia risks. Wear your safety belt when in the car and your helmet for biking.
6. Exercise, exercise, exercise. It improves thinking and mental function, and it helps prevent diseases that raise the risk for developing dementia.
7. Manage mental and emotional stress. Exercise can help with this, too. But so can other activities such as getting together with good friends. Stress-relieving activities can help us to maintain the ability to learn and to remember.
8. Speaking of friendships, stay social. Traveling and volunteering are two good ways to socialize, which can help to keep the mind active and well.
9. Get your sleep. Not getting enough is unhealthy for the brain.
10. Keep active mentally. Doing so has a positive effect on mental functioning. Some examples of brain-health promoting activities are taking classes, learning a new form of dance or some other new skill, working puzzles, and learning another language. More on this subject below.
Want to have some fun and help preserve cognitive function at the same time? If so, then "exercise" your brain! Performing mental exercises can improve one's brainpower, according to a new report by the Pulse wire service.
Research published recently by the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that simple brain exercises can boost participants' mental skills. In this study, people were given a short program of simple exercises designed to increase the speed of mental processing, improve reasoning powers, and enhance memory. Those who engaged in these mental exercises grew better at performing them over time. What's more, compared to other research subjects who did no brain exercise, they also appeared more proficient at carrying out routine activities of daily living years later!
In certain respects, we should think of brain exercise in the same way that we think of physical exercise. In order to be effective, it has to be done regularly. It also needs to be progressive -- that is, a little more difficult as we continue performing it. So instead of growing comfortable with an activity that has become easy, we must require our minds to tackle tasks that feel challenging. A good example provided by the Pulse article would be a crossword puzzle fan who is always trying harder and harder puzzles. Another would be someone who learns something completely outside of his or her prior scope of expertise, such as an accomplished artist or musician who decides to master household repairs. The idea is to stimulate the brain by asking it to work a little!
Get Certified in 2007
"Stretch" your mind and make good on that New Year's resolution to meet new career goals, or even to begin a second career, by earning SFA certification as a senior fitness specialist. To make it easy, we're offering a first-of-the-year discount rate on professional certification training packages beginning now and continuing through February 15, 2007. This temporary rate decrease applies on top of the member discount you already have! For details, click here "Get Certified in 2007 -- SFA Members Only."
Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.
Free SFA basic membership: If you aren't already a member of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA), just sign up online at www.seniorfitness.net. There are no fees or membership dues. And, we don't give out our members' personal information to others!
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