Just do it! Do virtually anything. Activity is even more important than we thought. Even modest amounts of activity can reduce the likelihood of dementia, and even help those with dementia live longer, healthier lives. The new findings indicate that physical activity helps preserve memory and brain function despite age-related damage to the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. “Higher activity is better for both people with and without dementia”, says Dr. Aaron Buchman of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
A longitudinal study of elderly Americans examined the effects of activity on study participants’ brains. Daily activity was measured through tracking devices. The majority of participants lived into their 80’s or 90’s. They all agreed to have their brains examined following their deaths. Of the participants, 236 did not have dementia while 191 were diagnosed with the disease. Researchers found that nearly an equal amount of age-related damage in the brains of both groups.
What researchers found most significant among the participants was that those people who were active had clearer thinking and better cognitive skills right up to their deaths. This was true of both those with and without dementia.
Exercise is beneficial to people of all ages. Unfortunately, some elderly people are unable to perform strenuous activities that we associate with as meaningful exercise. According to researchers, just about any activity is meaningful when it comes to improving brain function as we age. Just getting up off the couch and doing just about anything is valuable to your body and your brain.
A useful guide for measuring activity is the Compendium of Physical Activities. Individual activities are measured in a “MET” - metabolic equivalent. One MET is the oxygen cost equivalent of sitting or resting quietly. Activities are broken down by 5-digit codes, grouping like activities together such as bicycling at less than 10 mph vs. 14-15.9 mph, or tennis singles vs. tennis doubles. The useful aspect of it for those of us who struggle to get what we think is enough exercise is the understanding that virtually any activity has value compared to sitting on the coach. For example, vacuuming is 3.3, watering plants is 2.5, and golfing without a cart is 5.3 MET. So the next time you’re sitting on the couch, putting off that new exercise routine for the umpteenth time, just get up and do just about anything.