Are you and your older family members keeping both your brain and body healthy as you age? Does your wellness/fitness plan include combined brain/cognitive and physical training? Recent and ongoing research is providing more specific and meaningful information about how our brains are “wired”, and what “works” to most efficiently improve our cognitive (higher thinking) and physical abilities with aging. The research includes specialized MRI and brain imaging, before and after combined mental and gait/movement training. Some of the cognitive measures include one’s “working memory”, visual memory, mental processing speed, and an ability to have “cognitive flexibility” – the ability to shift one’s attention between one task and another. The functional MRI image below shows the expanded brain activity with this type of combined cognitive and physical training, vs. only a single type of traditional mental training (puzzles, brain games) or physical training (treadmill walking).
Two examples of movement training that are being explored further, and do show healthy gains in brain/physical aging health include dance video games that require new movement pattern learning matched with memory/rhythm, and Tai Chi. In one recent aging neuroscience study, brain MRI images were made during movement/reaction time testing with a group of active elderly, and a group of elderly who practice Tai Chi regularly. The Tai Chi practice group demonstrated better overall “brain activity architecture” or “signal connection” functions between thinking and movement brain areas. The Tai Chi group also showed better reaction time and pathways in their brain images.
In summary, more traditional aging science and simple aerobic exercise recommendations are being expanded to include important, multi-component “neuro”, “motor” training with cognitive, movement training. This area of research reveals that simultaneous training of our higher mental functions with physical movement can help improve one’s physical health AND cognitive health. This is important especially in our aging population, to our baby boomers, who seek to remain active, productive, and physically and cognitively fit with aging. This research also is important in rehabilitation, as it is translates to our methods of achieving the best results with conditions including stroke, diabetes combined with sedentary behavior, early vascular brain changes, mild cognitive decline/dementia, and neuro-degenerative conditions.
Our Legacy Therapy & Wellness team can help you with an assessment of your needs, or help design a “Multi-Component Training” program right for you!
Until next time, I hope this information is encouraging…helpful to you and your family to keep moving well!