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Stronger Bodies, Stronger Minds: Trio of Studies Stress Senior Fitness

February 1, 2017        

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Retirement is bad for your health, the wry witticism goes. But now, a handful of unrelated scientific studies led credence to another wry notion: that the acronym “AARP” should stand not for the American Association of Retired People (the largest and most influential national seniors group), but for the American Association of Reinvigorated People.  Here’s why.

Fitter seniors, stronger memory retention?

A comparison study by the Boston University School of Medicine compared memory strength in physically fit young people and seniors—finding that older adults with fitter hearts and lungs had memory power closer to that of the young people than older adults with less fit hearts and lungs.

The study first tested the cardio-pulmonary health of a group of adults ages 18 to 31, then a group of adults ages 55 to 74.  The study then had participants try to remember the names of strangers whose photos were shown to them.  Each participant’s brain was scanned by an MRI as he or she was first shown the photos with the names, then shown the photos without the names.

The study results found that seniors with healthier hearts and lungs were able to remember more names of new faces than seniors with less healthy hearts and lungs, indicating a possible link.

The increased brain activity in those with higher levels of heart/lung fitness occurred in regions typically affected by age-related decline.

While the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link between healthier bodies and healthier memories, researchers say it underscores the importance of regular exercise for people of all ages as they age, especially seniors.  It was published recently in the journal Cortex.


Does lack of exercise invite dementia?

A Canadian study by the Hamilton, Ontario-based McMaster University suggests that seniors leading sedentary lifestyles are just as likely to develop dementia as senior genetically predisposed to the condition.

The study of over 1,600 adults aged 65 and older found that those with the least daily physical activity had the same statistical risk of being diagnosed with dementia as those carrying a mutation in the APOE gene, which is known to increase chances of developing dementia.

Conversely, the five-year study also found that seniors who exercised appeared to have lower odds of developing dementia than those who didn’t.

But the study didn’t prove that lack of exercise caused dementia risk to increase.  It only found an association between the two.  The study was published Jan. 10 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.


Meditation, music may help reverse early memory loss

A study by West Virginia University found that meditating or listening to music may benefit adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD).  That condition may be associated with preclinical-stage Alzheimer’s and its resulting memory loss.

The study, a randomized, controlled clinical trial of 60 60 adults with SCD, found that beginner meditation or listening to music for 12 minutes a day for three months had significant benefits.

Participants were assigned to meditation or a music listening program, and asked to practice 12 minutes per day for three months, then at their discretion for three months.

Their memory and cognitive function were measured at the trial’s start, and measured again at three months and six months into the study, using standardized memory questionnaires and tests.

Both groups showed significant improvements at three months in memory and cognitive performance. At six months, overall gains were maintained or improved.  The benefits did not differ by age, gender, baseline cognition scores, or any other factor.

The improvements were in cognitive functioning areas most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia, such as attention, executive function, and subjective memory function.  There were also substantial gains in memory and cognition, and these were sustained or enhanced at the six-month mark.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.