Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

December 16, 2008

Table of Contents

  • The Brain Fitness Project (Introduction to special issue)
  • Expand Your Senior Exercise Services (Add cognitive health activities!)
  • What's in a Brain? (Physiology matters)
  • What Works and Why (Cognitive activity management)
  • Become a Professional Cognitive Fitness Facilitator (Career enhancement)
  • Cellular 'Brakes' May Slow Memory Process in Aging Brains (Research news)
  • Brainy Buys (Video products that address cognitive health)
  • Where Did I Leave My . . . (Humor)

The Brain Fitness Project

Editor's note: Today's newsletter is exceptionally long because it is a special end-of-the-year edition. It includes much factual senior health information, as always, plus breaking news on an exciting career opportunity for senior fitness professionals. Happy holidays!

For approximately eight years now, the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) has operated the Brain Fitness Project which monitors scientific progress in the area of cognitive health. The focus of the Brain Fitness Project is on the impact this new knowledge may have with regard to:

  • Improving older adults' quality of life on a wide-scale basis, and
  • Increasing service opportunities for senior fitness professionals.

Certainly, there is much new and emerging information to monitor! For example, just this week researchers at the University of Florida released the details of a study shedding light on why some brain cells essential for memory can withstand old age and disease, while similar neighboring cells die off. Their report is reprinted for you later in this newsletter ("Cellular 'Brakes' May Slow Memory Process in Aging Brains").

Also, popular cultural trends reflect a widespread interest brain health. Commercial products are being developed to inform laypersons and help them preserve their mental acuity. Two reliable DVD items, both produced by the Public Broadcasting Service, are "The Secret Life of the Brain" and "The Aging Brain." Descriptions of these productions are provided for you in this issue ("Brainy Buys").

Meanwhile, the technology industry has entered the brain-health arena as well. According to the Associated Press, home computer brain-fitness software jumped from $100 million in revenues in 2005 to $225 million in 2007. By 2015, it is expected to reach $2 billion. In fact, in Sarasota, Florida, there is an innovative spa designed as a health club for the mind, not the body. It features computer stations that engage cognitive functions such as memory, computation, and critical thinking -- as well as equipment to promote relaxation. For more information, click on Although experts acknowledge that such technology is as yet largely unproven scientifically, it proffers great hope to baby boomers and the market is brisk. This suggests a possible growth area for the health club industry: dedicating certain (quiet) portions of club space to brain-exercise computers and equipment. Any entrepreneur with enough money can do it. The concept is auspicious -- potentially beneficial for clients and lucrative for business owners. However, SFA professionals have expressed a stronger interest in integrating brain fitness activities directly into their current group-exercise classes and personal training sessions. More on that topic coming up.

Because there is so much news to absorb on the subject of cognitive health, the Brain Fitness Project acts as an information clearinghouse for members of the American Senior Fitness Association. For years, we have followed and reported on breakthroughs in neuroscience for the readers of Experience! Now we are pleased to announce that SFA's Brain Fitness Project will make in-depth educational resources available to health-fitness professionals.

Today we introduce Brain Fitness for Older Adults: How to Incorporate Cognitive Fitness into Physical Activity Programming. This comprehensive educational program for senior fitness professionals provides the basic foundation you need in:

  • Brain anatomy and physiology,
  • Cognitive functioning,
  • The aging brain,
  • Links between physical exercise and memory,
  • The role of mental stimulation in cognitive health,
  • Social and psychoemotional influences on cognition, and
  • Activities for promoting brain health in senior exercise programs.
  • Finally, here is a practical and detailed technical guide for mental fitness promotion specifically geared to senior physical activity professionals! Learn how to blend cognitive fitness into the active lifestyles you encourage your older adult fitness clients to embrace.

    Below are selected excerpts from one of the three publications contained in the Brain Fitness for Older Adults professional study program. They will give you a preview of the program, as well as factual information that you can begin using today. First, we will explore the rationale behind senior fitness leaders conducting cognitive-fitness activity programming. Why is it a good idea? ("Expand Your Senior Exercise Services")

    Next, we will peruse a brief sampling of SFA brain-function studies ("What's in a Brain?").

    From there, we move on to a discussion of some -- but not all -- of the key principles involved in incorporating cognitive fitness into physical activity programming ("What Works and Why").

    Expand Your Senior Exercise Services

    The following shortened selections from SFA's professional study program Brain Fitness for Older Adults relate a philosophy that supports senior fitness personnel branching out into cognitive fitness services:

    Senior fitness professionals are singularly equipped and well positioned to implement brain fitness activities as an exciting new component of physical exercise programming. Acting within the older adult fitness setting is a notably practical means of putting this new human health knowledge into use.

    Senior physical activity professionals are accustomed to change and the need to keep learning new things about their field. Due to common hearing and vision declines in older populations, they have long been attuned to neurological issues in addition to the conventional focus on musculoskeletal, pulmonary, and cardiovascular fitness. Some years ago, evidence indicated the inclusion of targeted balance training in senior fitness programming, which required them to expand their understanding of neurological functions. Thus, they are now most conveniently poised for further in-depth study and emphasis on the subject.

    Senior fitness, like nursing, is one of the caring professions. The mature fitness professional community includes a host of workers with just the right temperament for this kind of challenge. Most entered the field because they want to help others and are dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of their older adult clients. No equally qualified profession that automatically reaches and teaches comparable legions of seniors on as regular, continuing, and long-term a basis can be predicted to more eagerly and efficiently adopt these new responsibilities.

    Senior fitness trainers and instructors occupy an excellent position from which to actively promote brain health on a large scale. They work with the segment of our population that is the most at-risk for cognitive decline. In fact, they do so on a regular schedule, which is vital since brain exercise, like physical exercise, must be performed with frequency in order to yield the desired results.

    In addition to exercise science, senior fitness professionals also routinely study the mental, social, and psychological issues associated with aging. Therefore, a working knowledge base is already in place from which to launch focused efforts to improve cognitive fitness. Having developed the communication and motivational skills necessary to advance older adult physical fitness, they also can be leaders in the fascinating realm of cognitive fitness. Older adult fitness workers are in the daily business of senior health promotion. Many of the healthy lifestyle habits they constantly reinforce are the very habits that also appear to enhance older adult brain fitness.

    Like physical fitness, cognitive abilities wane over time if not put into regular use. This accords seamlessly with the senior fitness mantra "Use it or lose it!" Since brain fitness is vital to overall fitness, we senior fitness leaders should deem cognitive fitness activity essential to comprehensive senior fitness programming. It's not just a good idea, it's our job.

    What's in a Brain?

    The following excerpt provides a short, simplified sample of the comprehensive brain-function studies provided in SFA's Brain Fitness for Older Adults educational program:

    The cerebral cortex is the extensive outer layer of gray tissue of the cerebral hemispheres and is the dominant actor in the brain with regard to language, abstract thought, and memory. The term cerebral hemisphere refers to either half of the cerebrum (the two hemispheres being divided by the longitudinal cerebral fissure, or groove, and then joined together again at the bottom by another structure of the brain). The cerebrum itself is the large rounded structure of the brain that occupies most of the cranial cavity. So, then, the cerebral cortex is that thin, but very extensive, layer of cells that envelopes the cerebrum, covering the deeper structures of the brain.

    The cortex is known as the brain's seat of higher learning. It contains specialized areas devoted to processing differing types of sensory input -- plus even more specialized areas that integrate data delivered through two or more separate senses. All of these areas are connected by a vast and complex communication network of axons, conveying signals between areas of the cerebral cortex that manage similar as well as disparate kinds of sensory information. This continual signaling, arising from multiple sensory sources, ultimately enables the brain to form numerous mental associations. In other words, a specific memory can be stored in more than one way thanks to the many combinations of sensory information that are possible.

    What Works and Why

    These brief excerpts from SFA's professional course of study Brain Fitness for Older Adults touch on the theory and practice of effective cognitive fitness programming in senior physical exercise settings:

    In conceiving and developing valid, effective brain fitness activities, senior exercise leaders must take into account myriad practical and theoretical programming details. For example, is one's brain-fitness activity concept a sound idea? If so, why? The health-fitness professional's supposition that the activity has mental fitness value must be logically justified before moving forward to the next planning stages.

    A compilation of 12 specific criteria must be consulted in assessing the relevancy of specific mental fitness activities. Two examples will be given here. Does the proposed activity:

  • Provide a nontrivial change of custom, habit, or routine? or
  • Engage one or more of the physical senses (or an emotional "sense") in a novel manner?
  • Important logistical factors that also must be considered include:

  • How exactly will the activity be conducted? and
  • What types of special planning tasks will need to be completed in order to ensure the implementation of a productive and well coordinated activity?
  • To assist program leaders in this undertaking, the American Senior Fitness Association provides a checklist of 25 brain-fitness activity planning requirements that is especially designed for use by members of the older adult physical activity services profession. It consists of a series of pertinent questions that must be answered in the affirmative before a cognitive fitness activity can be responsibly conducted. Five examples will be given here:

  • Is the activity consistent with the mental and physical ability level of the service recipient(s)?
  • Is the activity financially cost-effective?
  • If needed (for example, in connection with potential liability concerns, insurance issues, or financial costs), has the program leader obtained permission from superiors to conduct the activity?
  • Does the program leader have access to any props, accessories, supplies, or other materials needed to conduct the activity?
  • If assistance is needed to conduct the activity, has the program leader arranged to have the necessary qualified staff resources on hand?
  • After conducting a brain fitness activity, the program leader must complete an effective post-activity evaluation process. Detailed instructions are provided in the Brain Fitness for Older Adults training program. Included in the larger framework of the post-activity evaluation procedure is a series of 10 questions the program leader should ask himself or herself. Four examples will be given here:

  • Did I closely follow the advance plans when preparing for and conducting the activity?
  • Did I seek participant feedback regarding their experience of the activity?
  • Did any undesirable surprise(s) occur in connection with the activity?
  • If so, how might that have been prevented or better managed through advance planning?
  • The creation of legitimate brain-fitness activity programming requires thought and imagination on the part of senior fitness professionals. Indeed, never has the motto "Use your head!" been more appropriate to the matter at hand. Realistically, however, trainers' and instructors' primary duties already entail time-consuming professional commitments. Therefore, the American Senior Fitness Association provides fitness leaders with the time-saving resources they need to organize, develop, and conduct activities successfully. These resources include many brain-fitness activity suggestions and even pre-made activity plans.

    Become a Professional Cognitive Fitness Facilitator

    An expert peer review process showed that 24.5* study hours are needed to complete the Brain Fitness for Older Adults professional education program. Therefore, it provides 24.5* SFA continuing education credits. As with other SFA continuing education courses, Brain Fitness for Older Adults is being submitted for preapproval by other organizations.

    Brain Fitness for Older Adults is a reader-friendly, illustrated correspondence course program. Students who pass the post-test will earn their professional certificate as an American Senior Fitness Association Cognitive Fitness Facilitator. The course materials include:

  • Brain Fitness for Older Adults: How to Incorporate Cognitive Fitness into Physical Activity Programming (94-page text)
  • Brain Fitness: Key Points and Historical Highlights (42-page text)
  • The Brain Fitness Project: Practical Applications System #1 (92-page text; provides 25 pre-made brain fitness activity plans)
  • The Brain Fitness Program (90-minute DVD documentary film)
  • Companion CD-ROM (provides 25 client handouts, one for each pre-made activity plan)
  • Correspondence course instructions and post-test
  • SFA members are entitled to an exclusive pre-publication savings opportunity. After January 10, 2009, Brain Fitness for Older Adults will be available to everyone for $249 (but only $224 with your SFA membership discount). Shipping/handling is $15.

    However, SFA members who place pre-publication orders on or before January 10, 2009, will receive the program for $199 plus S/H.

    For more information, click on SFA's Brain Fitness Project or call toll-free (888) 689-6791.

    Below are expert peer reviewers' comments about SFA's Brain Fitness for Older Adults professional study program:

  • "Outstanding! This course ties together, in a scientifically supported manner, the aspects of physical and mental learning that can occur when fitness training is properly applied -- both for the beginning and experienced trainer."
  • "Awesome program for my seniors. I would recommend this to anyone who works with the senior population. Well worth the time and effort. Thank you!"
  • "I have had an interest in cognitive training for quite some time and have been studying various materials on the subject. This was definitely the most comprehensive study I have seen. This is a very impressive course, concentrating on the scientific aspects of the brain and relating the information to a program in cognitive fitness. I appreciate the fact that it was not over-simplified. The CD-ROM with all the handouts is excellent and I will be using all of them. I highly recommend this course."
  • * Note: Since this article was published, "Brain Fitness for Older Adults" has been approved for 2.0 CECs by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). This award equals 20 educational contact hours and reflects a full two year CEC requirement for most fitness organizations. Many other organizations also accept this program for continuing education credit.

    Cellular 'Brakes' May Slow Memory Process in Aging Brains

    Online, in print, on film, and in scientific journals and other scholarly publications -- new brain-health findings and insights appear daily. The American Senior Fitness Association's Brain Fitness Project is committed to filtering this avalanche of information for SFA members so that no one gets buried under it! Consequently, we regularly pre-screen and present related material relevant to senior fitness workers in our twice-monthly newsletter Experience! On those terms, the following article from the University of Florida Health Science Center has been selected for publication based on its power to boost readers' understanding of the complexities inherent in memory fitness:

    University of Florida researchers may have discovered why some brain cells necessary for healthy memory can survive old age or disease, while similar cells hardly a hairsbreadth away die.

    The discovery, published online ahead of print in the Nature publication Cell Death & Differentiation, could help scientists understand and find solutions for age-related memory loss.

    Scientists with UF's Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute describe how they analyzed two neighboring regions of a tiny brain structure called the hippocampus in rats of varying ages. They found that a recently discovered enzyme known as PHLPP, pronounced "flip," may be silencing a vital cell-survival protein in the region where neurons are most susceptible to damage and death.

    "The question is why does one set of brain cells live and another set die when they are only millimeters apart in the same small brain structure?" said Travis C. Jackson, a graduate student working with Thomas C. Foster, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight chair for research on aging and memory at UF. "We looked at an important signaling pathway that tells cells to stay alive or die, and the enzymes that regulate that pathway. Implicated in all this is a new protein that before a couple of years ago no one actually knew much about."

    The scientists focused on the hippocampus, an anatomical region shaped something like a curved kidney bean in mammals. The structure is widely believed to be central to the formation of memories, as well as an important component of motivation and emotions. A portion of it is known to be especially vulnerable to decreased cerebral blood flow, which can occur because of stroke or circulatory problems. The same area is also one of the earliest brain regions to show pathology associated with Alzheimer's disease.

    Researchers studied both regions for signs of AKT, a protein that when activated, actually hinders many naturally occurring inducers of cell death. They found activated AKT was scarce among the cells that are vulnerable to damage and death and more abundant within the hardier cells.

    The next step was to figure out what was turning off AKT in the vulnerable cells, which led scientists to PHLPP1, a recently discovered enzyme that is believed to be a natural tumor suppressor. Where PHLPP1 levels were high - which corresponded to the area with the vulnerable cell population - AKT activation was far less robust.

    "Possibly, we have found a target that could be manipulated with drugs so that these brain cells can be saved from threats," said Foster, a professor of neuroscience at the UF College of Medicine. "If one area of the hippocampus has a deficiency in cell-survival signaling, it is possible to find a way to ramp up the AKT protein. The caveat is, there are studies that show over-activating AKT may not be good for memory - AKT may be naturally lower in this region for an important reason. But in times of intense damage, there may be a therapeutic window to upregulate AKT and get some benefit to health."

    PHLPP was discovered in 2005 by a team of researchers led by Alexandra Newton, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego, who had set out to learn what was controlling AKT-driven cell growth, proliferation and survival. The investigation led them to PHLLP, which, in addition to being involved in healthy cellular processes, is known to propel tumor growth.

    "Basically, PHLPP is important in controlling whether cells survive and proliferate or die," said Newton, who did not participate in the UF research. "If you want cells to survive brain disease, diabetes or heart disease, you want active AKT signaling and therefore low PHLPP. But if you want to stop cells that have the 'go' signal, like cancer cells, PHLPP can function as a brake. In this case, it appears as if there is an area in the hippocampus that is easily stressed and might undergo ischemia easily, because PHLPP is not allowing the AKT survival mechanism to work."

    Brainy Buys

    An ever-responsible source of informative video productions, the Public Broadcasting Service offers several easy-to-follow presentations on brain health. The two DVD products described below are suitable for lay audiences but will also prove illuminating to many health-fitness professionals:

    "The Secret Life of the Brain" is a three-disk set comprising approximately 300 minutes of compelling information on the latest discoveries in neuroscience. Disk One addresses the baby's brain and the child's brain; Disk Two the teenage brain; Disk Three the adult brain and the aging brain.

    "The Aging Brain," from the PBS LIFE-Part 2 series, offers humor and education together in an entertaining 30-minute package that tells us how to keep our brains sharp as they age.

    These DVDs are available at SFA's partner site, the Mature Fitness Shoppe. Although the store is not yet officially open, select items are already available for purchase and more are being added daily. Good news: SFA members receive a 10% discount off the store's already low prices. Just type "SFA08" into the Promotion Code box on the checkout page to receive your discount. To visit the Mature Fitness Shoppe, click on

    Antique SpectaclesWhere Did I Leave My . . .

    The English statesman Sir Edward Grey (1862-1933) was quite a wit. But with twenty-first century brain fitness programming, perhaps we will soon come to forget age-related quips such as:

    "I am getting to an age when I can only enjoy the last sport left. It is called hunting for your spectacles."

                                                              -- Edward Grey

    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 There are no fees or membership dues. And, we don't give out our members' personal information to others! When you join SFA, you'll receive our e-newsletter "Experience!" which will bring you older adult fitness news, research, and wellness tips.

    Fitness and health professionals: You may distribute copies of Experience! to your exercise clients and patients as a free newsletter service. Copies of Experience! or excerpts therefrom must always ascribe credit to the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA). To fulfill that requirement, include the complete banner (title information at the top of each newsletter) as well as all post-newsletter notes, messages, copyright information, and the SFA logo.
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