Grampa, when you finish that puzzle slip on your walking shoes and step outside.
A lot of senior citizens are doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords to ‘exercise their brains’ and slow the aging process. These puzzles can be fun, and they do build puzzle-solving skills which are long-lasting. They are only half the battle against aging, though.
“Unless the activities that you’re practicing span a broad spectrum of abilities, then there is not a proven general benefit to these mental fitness programs. So, the idea that any single brain exercise program late in life can act as a quick fix for general mental function is almost entirely faith-based,” Professor Wang said in our post on physical exercise vs mental exercise.
Walking, on the other hand, boosts blood flow to the brain. Medicine.net reported that moderate aerobic exercise helps boost blood flow to the brain in older women.
The small study included 16 women aged 60 and older who walked briskly for 30 to 50 minutes three or four times a week for three months. By the end of that time, the amount of blood flow to the brain had increased by as much as 15 percent.
The researchers also found that the women’s VO2 max — the body’s maximum capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise — increased about 13 percent, their blood pressure fell an average of 4 percent, and their heart rates decreased about 5 percent.
If this sounds familiar to regular readers, we covered a similar item in February in Exercise, Aging and the Brain, here.
For the record, there is nothing harmful to seniors who are doing puzzles to exercise their brains. It’s just that the puzzles per se are not going to bring much-needed blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Only exercise does that.
Lead researcher Rong Zhang, of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, explained in a news release from the American Physiological Society, that it is not known if increasing blood flow to the brain can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but there is strong evidence to suggest that cardiovascular risk is tied to the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
People who exercise starting from middle age are 1/3 as likely to get Alzheimer’s in their 70’s. If they start in their 60’s the risk drops by half.
“Exercise does many things that improve our cognitive abilities. It increases blood flow to the brain; triggers secretion of neurotropic factors which improve dendritic growth; secretes naturally occurring opiates (endorphins), reduces stress hormone secretion; and improves cardiovascular health which reduces risk of stroke,” Professor Wang says.
He concluded that interventions that are good for the heart are good for the brain as well. Intellectual engagement and physical activity are major principles for retaining brain function as well as heart health. Two principles – Sound mind in a sound body – Use it or Lose it.