December 16, 2008
Table of Contents
(Introduction to special issue)
Expand Your Senior Exercise Services
(Add cognitive health activities!)
What's in a Brain?
What Works and Why
(Cognitive activity management)
Become a Professional Cognitive Fitness Facilitator
Cellular 'Brakes' May Slow Memory Process in Aging
Brains (Research news)
Brainy Buys (Video
products that address cognitive health)
Where Did I Leave My . . .
- The Brain Fitness Project
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!
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
- Improving older adults' quality of life on a wide-scale basis,
- Increasing service opportunities for senior fitness
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
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 www.mind-spas.com.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Fitness for Older Adults touch on the theory and practice of
effective cognitive fitness programming in senior physical exercise
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
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
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
Did any undesirable surprise(s) occur in connection with the
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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."
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:
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.
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
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 www.seniorfitness.org.
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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Copyright 2008 American Senior Fitness Association (SFA)