We are often asked how late is it too late to start a fitness program. We have great news for you… Never! Fitness on the Run actually just hosted a workshop for our Move Better group a couple of weeks ago – 14 amazing individuals, each with their own health journey, came to take the first step to gaining confidence in their movements, improving posture, and just plain getting strong.
We know the human body continually creates new cells until we die. We also know that those who engage in a fitness program with strength training are less likely to suffer from heart disease (genetics aside) and will make them happier and more engaged in society. Previously, most of the science linking activity to brain health focused on endurance exercise. Aerobic exercise causes a spike in blood movement, which some believe is necessary to create new brain cells.
Strength Training vs Aerobic Exercise for Better Cognitive Function
Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a professor of physical therapy and director of the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, studied the effect of strength training on the brain. She was already aware of the benefits of running, walking, and aerobic activity on the brain. Her interest was keenly on the effects of strength training on the brain. Her work is far from finished, but some of the early findings will help you remember to take your morning or after-breakfast walk.
Ms. Liu-Ambrose was interested in weight training, because weight training strengthens and builds muscles. In results from her lab, older women who lifted weights performed significantly better on various tests of cognitive functioning than women who completed toning classes. Her study was recently published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. She admits she’s just scratching the surface.
The Importance of Improving Posture for Brain Health
The brain doesn’t really like a slouched or uneven gait. The brain wants our bodies to move in a neutral spine, head evenly above our neck.
More surprising, changes in gait and agility with aging may indicate and even contribute to a decline in brain health, including in our white matter, scientists think. Our gait adjusts for the better and for the worse. The more we practice a healthy and strong gait, the more our brain will maintain that posture and potentially stay healthy.
White matter can be likened to the “subway of the brain.” It links our parts of the brain to each other. Regions of the brain communicate in order to carry out behavior involved in everyday life. This isn’t just a human rule, it applies to animals, too. Decline in white matter used to be associated with speed of thinking. Now we know more. Deficits can range from language ability to delayed memory, and can be associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Furthermore, our muscles, like our brains, tend to shrink with age, affecting how we move. Smaller muscle mass generally results in slower, more unsteady walking and less confidence in your movements. Starting an exercise program will help your body keep that muscle mass so you can keep up with your grandkids and friends for their day at the park, or walk through the Smithsonian.
Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times Magazine in March published a story about a study of the effects of exercise on the aging brain. “It seems as if the decline in the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was ‘corrected’ with exercise, especially if it was intense,” said Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic and the study’s senior author. In fact, older people’s cells responded in some ways more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did — suggesting, he says, that it is never too late to benefit from exercise.
The most astounding finding to me continues to be that our bodies generate new cells throughout our lives. There is no age limit to getting healthy!