Topic: General

Keeping Your Brain Sharp

Friday, July 27th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

The following article was written by Lynn Wallen, PhD, the Vice President for Research and Development of Super Noggin TM. She and several other Super Noggin staff members have successfully completed the American Senior Fitness Association’s in-depth "Brain Fitness for Older Adults" professional education program. We know that you will enjoy Dr. Wallen’s informative report, below:

If you are one of the "worried well," concerned about staying mentally sharp as you age, here is good news for you! There are things you can do to be proactive about your brain health.

Brain fitness is a topic of great interest right now, not only because 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, but also because of new and exciting discoveries in neuroscience.

Probably the most surprising finding is that it is possible to grow new neurons — a type of brain cell — throughout life in a process called neurogenesis. This is a revolutionary discovery because neurons are not like other cells in the body. Unlike skin cells or blood cells or muscle cells, brain cells do not divide and reproduce themselves. That is why scientists used to think that once our brains were developed in childhood, we had all the brain cells we would ever have. The only change would be that they would gradually die off as we aged, unable to be replaced.

But now we know that new neurons can develop from neural stem cells. The neural stem cells act like seeds from which new neurons develop in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This part of the brain is involved with learning and memory, so if we could choose any place for new neurons to grow, we’d probably pick the hippocampus.

In addition to growing new brain cells, we can also strengthen the connections between existing brain cells and even re-wire those connections in response to our experiences. This ability of the brain to adapt and change is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows us to compensate for loss of function due to injury or illness and allows us to adjust to certain disabilities.

For example, studies show that a part of the brain devoted to vision will alter itself to respond to touch in blind people who learn Braille.

Or, a right-handed person whose right arm ends up in a cast for many months can learn to do things with his left hand that he could not do — or thought he could not do — with his left hand before. The brain is amazingly adaptable and plastic.

We can use what we know about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity to keep our brains active and growing. Only thirty percent of how well (or badly) we age is governed by our genes. The other seventy percent is under our control through lifestyle choices we make every day. And what is the number one lifestyle choice? To stay active.

Regular physical exercise is the keystone to physical health. Everyone knows this. But not many know that physical exercise is also necessary for brain fitness because the condition of your brain is closely tied to the fitness of your body. People who do not move enough are not pumping blood and oxygen to their brains to the degree necessary to support the growth of new brain cells.

And the news just keeps getting worse and worse for the couch potatoes. Here is what the neuroscientists currently tell us about neurogenesis: The only way to grow new neurons is through physical exercise. Mental exercise and cognitive stimulation will strengthen the connections between brain cells you already have, but only moving can grow new neurons. One experiment suggests that the exercise has greatest benefit if it is voluntary.

In studies of mice, those who had a running wheel in their cage produced a 15 percent growth in their hippocampus — the part of the brain that processes memory. Mice love to run on their wheels and will spend several hours a day doing it if they can. The sedentary mice in cages without a running wheel did not increase their brain size, and — here’s the interesting part — a group of mice that were forced to do exercise did not increase their gray matter either. These mice were thrown into a pool of water and had to swim around until they found a way to get out of the water. Mice don’t like to swim. It appears that you have to choose to do the exercise to get the brain benefits.

The 15 percent growth in the hippocampus occurred in young mice. What happened when senior citizen mice were put through the same experiment? They had even better results: Three times the number of new cells in the hippocampus. No one knows why the old mice did so much better. But the evidence was there.

In addition to the brain-boosting power of exercise, there are many other benefits to staying active. This list is published by the National Institute on Aging:

  • Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Reduced anxiety and stress
  • Improved mood; may alleviate depression
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased risk of heart disease
  • May improve cholesterol levels
  • Slowed rate of bone loss with age
  • More efficient use of insulin
  • Lowered risk of certain cancers
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Helps control weight and prevent obesity; increases calorie burning efficiency.
  • So get moving every day! It’s not only good for your body, it’s the best brain booster available.

    This article is based on Step One of "Ten Steps to Brain Fitness," a workshop in the Super Noggin TM brain fitness series developed by LEAF Ltd., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting cognitive wellness. Lynn Wallen, Vice President for Research and Development, is the designer of the Super NogginTM program. For more information, visit www.SuperNoggin.org

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    It’s Time For Spring Savings!

    Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    To celebrate Spring and to honor Older American’s Month, SFA is reducing the enrollment fees on all of our award winning educational programs. But don’t delay, these reduced fees are only available through Wednesday, May 31 2012.
    Please call SFA at (888)689-6791/(386)423-6634 or visit our online order center to learn more.

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    Gardening and Arthritis

    Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    The potential benefits of gardening are many and include both physical and emotional rewards. For example:

  • Gardening can provide regular physical activity that strengthens the major muscle groups, increases one’s range of motion and promotes joint flexibility
  • Growing the right plants can add healthful nutritional options to one’s diet.
  • Enjoying the great outdoors can help counter stress, perhaps even lower blood pressure, and can increase vitamin D levels for bone health.
  • But what if gardening has become painful due to arthritis? A partnership between AgrAbility, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored program, and the Arthritis Foundation’s Indiana Chapter is tackling that question. For starters, the group recommends working in an environment designed to minimize arthritis-related aches and pains. For example:

  • Try tending a smaller garden.
  • Grow lower maintenance plants (such as perennials, which require less frequent replanting).
  • Take advantage of technology! Try out ergonomic gardening tools especially made to combat wear and tear on the body — like tools with extendable handles that cut down on the need to reach and to bend over.
  • Arrange for a nearby source of water in order to avoid hauling heavy water pitchers and hoses.
  • Raise or lower work surfaces, as needed, to ward off discomfort.
  • The group also has some good-sense tips for preventing overexertion while gardening. For example:

  • Warm up with some gentle stretching before getting to work.
  • Break down ambitious projects into smaller tasks. Don’t try to do everything in one day!
  • Alternate more demanding activities with less taxing ones.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take rest breaks often.
  • If a task is too strenuous, get help.
  • Persons with physical impairments or yard-space limitations that preclude outdoor gardening can still enjoy this wholesome activity! Many flowers, herbs and vegetables will thrive in pots kept on the porch or on windowsills.

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    May is Older Americans’ Month

    Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Since 1963, May has been designated as Older Americans’ Month and it’s a great time to generate some positive attention for your senior fitness program.

    • To learn more about Older Americans’ Month visit the Administration on Aging’s website. You’ll find plenty of suggestions for events to honor seniors in your area. There’s even an "Activity Toolkit" to help you plan your events.
    • Of special interest to fitness leaders, May 30, 2012 will mark the 19th annual celebration of National Senior Health & Fitness Day. This year it’s estimated that 100,000 seniors will participate at over 1000 locations. National Senior Health & Fitness Day has been organized as a public-private partnership by the Mature Market Resource Center with this goal: to help keep older Americans healthy and fit. This year the theme is "Get Moving…Start Improving!"
    • If your organization would like to take part in National Senior Health & Fitness Day, there’s still time to organize your 2012 event and ASFA members that sign-up by Wednesday, May 30, receive a free event registration
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    Have a Laugh

    Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Take a few minutes to do your heart good by watching this humorous video presented by CaregiverStress.com. Here is how that website describes what you’re about to see:

    "A friend of the couple who founded Home Instead Senior Care, Mary Maxwell was asked to give the invocation at the company’s 2009 convention. Initially it seemed like a normal prayer, but it soon took a very funny turn. Her deadpan delivery and lines like ‘…This is the first time I’ve ever been old… and it just sort of crept up on me…’ soon had the franchise owners rolling in the aisles. With the timing of a professional comedian, Mary shines a very funny light on the foibles of aging, to the delight of this audience of senior-care experts."

    To view, click here.

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    Mental Distress Tied to Physical Disability

    Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Older adults experiencing depression or anxiety are more vulnerable to physical disabilities, according to an Australian study published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.However, researchers found that performing regular physical activity can help to guard against such outcomes.

    The scientists analyzed data on approximately 100,000 Australian men and women ages 65-plus. Psychological distress was detected in 8.4 percent of the subjects. The risk for physical disability was more than four times higher in those with any degree of psychological distress, compared to those with none. It was almost seven times higher in those with moderate levels of psychological distress.

    The good news: Investigators found that the older adult subjects who were more physically active were less prone to physical disabilities. In a news release, lead author Gregory Kolt of the University of Western Sydney wrote, "Our findings can influence the emphasis that we place on older adults to remain active. With greater levels of physical activity, more positive health gains can be achieved, and with greater physical function (through physical activity), greater independence can be achieved."

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    Fitness Beyond 50

    Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    The American Senior Fitness Association recently received a practical and easy-to-read soft-cover book (copyright 2012) from the Langdon Street Press.Its publisher has this to say about the new release Fitness Beyond 50: Turn Back the Clock:

    "As resolve in our well-intentioned habit changes starts to fade, we might take a day off from the gym, have that late night slice of pizza, or return to relying on our cup of morning joe to get the day started. But author Harry Gaines reminds us that getting in shape, and staying that way, is not just a New Year’s resolution, it’s a booster shot to our quality of life, especially for those of us over 50.

    "Fitness Beyond 50: Turn Back the Clock is the definitive baby boomer’s guide to fitness covering strength training, aerobics, and healthy eating, as well as the power of support groups, and the impact that exercise has on the brain. Written in a conversational style, Gaines combines easy-to-follow fitness plans and current research with over 125 real-life motivational anecdotes aimed at the quickly expanding ‘young seniors’ market.

    "Here’s what the experts are saying about Fitness Beyond 50:

    At last, a really helpful, easy-to-use guide to a healthy lifestyle for those if us past the ‘middle years.’ It provides motivation, education and behaviors to enhance lifestyle changes in a fun and very engaging format. I couldn’t put it down! — Caroline Nielsen, PhD, Former Chair and Emeritus Professor, Graduate Program in Allied Health, University of Connecticut

    "’This book is not just a how-to,’ says Gaines, ‘it is first and foremost a why-to, and that’s what makes it different. Older adults need the powerful combination of structure, science, motivation, and support in order to meet their fitness goals. Many of the broader exercise books out there are not designed with them in mind. The idea with Fitness Beyond 50 is that it’s focused on health and overall fitness that is attainable at any age.’

    "Fitness Beyond 50: Turn Back the Clock is distributed by Itasca Books and is available through Ingram and Baker & Taylor. For more information, click here.

    "Harry Gaines writes for fitness website dotFIT and the Commons Club Fitness Center Newsletter in Bonita Springs, FL. When he’s not writing, he’s logging one of his 5,000 plus miles cycling in SW Florida or Bucks County, PA."

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    Exercises to Improve Hearing?

    Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    SFA author Jim Evans is a 45-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and an internationally recognized fitness consultant. Today he shares some helpful — and somewhat surprising — news on how to cope productively with hearing loss.

    DEAR JIM: My hearing has gotten worse over the past few years (I’m 72), and it is frustrating — and embarrassing — in social situations when people have to repeat themselves when I can’t hear what they are saying. It’s my own fault because I haven’t had my hearing checked for a long time, and I really don’t like the thought of having to wear a hearing aid. I know there probably aren’t any "exercises" for hearing loss, but I thought I would ask anyway. SUFFERING IN SILENCE IN SAN DIEGO

    DEAR SUFFERING: Believe it or not, there really are exercises for improving your hearing. Well, sort of.

    While actual hearing loss usually cannot be reversed, sometimes there are "focus exercises" (www.hearingloss.ca/focus-exercises.html)
    that can help you to better concentrate on what you are hearing. In other words, you may not be suffering from hearing loss as much as a lack of focus on what is being said.

    On the other hand, you may only have conductive hearing loss, which according to the Hearing Loss Association of America (hearingloss.org/), is "the most easily treated type of hearing loss, which occurs when the sound vibrations are not being conducted through the outer and middle ears effectively. This can be due to wax build-up or an infection in the ear canal, fluid build-up or an infection behind the eardrum, damage to the eardrum or ossicles [the three tiny bones of the inner ear], or thickening of the eardrum or ossicles. Some of these are remedied easily, some require medication, and others require surgery, which may not be able to fully restore the hearing."

    Of course, the only way you are going to know for sure if you really have hearing loss, or not, is to get checked by your doctor. So what are you waiting for? Even if you do eventually have to wear a hearing aid, it will greatly improve your quality of life, so what’s the downside? Vanity? One of the advantages of today’s modern technology is that the new hearing aids (www.nuear.com/hearing-aids/) are so small and unobtrusive that no one else even knows you are wearing one most of the time anyway.

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    Stand Up Against Cancer

    Monday, December 5th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Sitting on the couch or in a chair for too much of the day may increase one’s risk for cancer, according to Dr. Cindy Haines of HealthDay TV, a service affiliated with the National Institutes of Health. It is not uncommon for people to sit for more than 15 hours per day — on the job, in their cars and/or while watching television. Getting up and moving around more may help to prevent the disease.

    In a recent Canadian study, older women who exercised five days per week for a year appeared to have have less inflammation in their bodies. Less inflammation may be protective against cancer. Researchers believe that becoming more physically active could reduce one’s risk for breast or colon cancer by 25 percent or more.

    The American Institute for Cancer Research offers these easy tips for incorporating more movement into one’s daily routine:

    • Set your watch or computer alarm to sound off every hour as a reminder to stand up and move about for a few minutes;
    • Stand up while talking on the telephone;
    • Instead of calling or emailing a coworker, walk over to his or her office; and
    • If you need to talk with someone for several minutes, take a walk during the conversation.
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    A Low-Fat, Whole-Grain Treat

    Monday, December 5th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    With the holiday season upon us, there will be visitors and house guests — perhaps including grandchildren. What to serve them as a healthy snack? The American Diabetic Association recommends popcorn, but without the salt and butter. Instead, try flavoring popcorn with:

    • Low-fat parmesan cheese;
    • Garlic and basil seasoning;
    • A dash of spice (for example, pepper, paprika or chili powder);
    • A few chocolate chips; or
    • A dab of peanut butter.
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