LiveSmart: Exercise Key to Healthy, Happy Brain

[This piece was written by Nancy J. Sterantino, supervisor of St. Peter’s Physical Therapy and Fitness.]

Imagine a brain: folds, ridges and furrows in that famous “grey matter.” Now, imagine a brain on exercise: folds, ridges and furrows pulse with free-flowing blood through vibrantly healthy arteries and capillaries.

Exercise boosts brain power. Working out helps control blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. It also increases oxygen to the brain, which promotes the growth of brain tissue and the tiny blood vessels that keep our thinking sharp.

University of Illinois researchers learned with the help of brain scans that human beings with the highest level of physical fitness (measured by treadmill testing) had larger brains and less age-related brain shrinkage than less fit subjects. This means that areas of the brain important to memory, learning and communication among cells stay healthier longer in people who exercise.

A report that reviewed data from 18 studies concluded that exercise has the most positive effects on men and women ages 55 to 80, especially in heightening attention, organization and planning. And, people 60 to 75 who hadn’t been very active before the study were shown to improve their mental reaction time with a three-day-a-week, six-month walking program.

Findings show that activity makes people three times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and 40 percent less likely to show other signs of mental decline. Exercise also improves mood, self-esteem, engagement and independence. Memory loss, learning deficits and shrinking brain cells are also associated with uncontrolled blood sugar— a condition that may be helped by an exercise plan approved by a physician.

Young people benefit too. One study of 19 university cross-country runners averaging 30 or more miles per week showed they scored an average of two points higher on standard intelligence tests at the end of their season.

St. Peter’s Physical Therapy & Fitness offers a full range of outpatient physical therapy services, including access to a state-of-the-art physical therapy gym and a Cardio Fitness Center, at 1240 New Scotland Road, Slingerlands, NY (approximately three miles from St. Peter’s Hospital). Our physical therapists are also available to meet with a patient one-on-one to develop an exercise program that addresses specific concerns. For information, please call 475-1818.

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