Over Fifty Fitness

So you are over fifty, and you thought you would be over fifty fitness by now, no need to pay to much attention to the abs and glutes and prefrontal cortex anymore, because Social Security is coming and you can coast into the finish line, right?

And then for some reason, you stop by your local YMCA or gym, and you are amazed at all the gray haired folks there, running, playing basketball, swimming, lifting weights, (some big weights), walking, playing raquetball, handball, working with coaches, joining fitness bootcamps, doing Tai Chi, using exercise balls to do sit-ups, and on and on it goes.

And perhaps your amazement leads you to research what your body can still do when it is an over fifty fitness buff.

You are surprised to learn that with a bit of counseling, preparation, training, stretching, warming up, warming down, your over fifty body can do a great deal. That body can even compete in some Seniors body sculpting competitions if it wants.

And you also very surprised to learn that there are some tremendously important side effects for your brain and your memories from over fifty fitness.

That information is the result of recent discoveries about the human brain and two previously unknown capacities of the human brain, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. More on those in a bit.

And you are really surprised to learn..."The American College of Sports Medicine now recommends weight training for all people over 50, and even people well into their 90s can benefit. A group of nursing home residents ranging in age from 87 to 96 recently improved their muscle strength by almost 180 percent after just eight weeks of weightlifting, also known as strength training. Adding that much strength is almost like rolling back the clock. Even frail elderly people find their balance improves, their walking pace quickens, and stairs become less of a challenge.

Among these elders is Sara, 91, who had a lot of trouble walking after healing from a serious hip fracture. But after starting a weight-lifting program in which she practiced either leg presses or leg curls three times a week, she was able to walk a quarter of a mile without assistance and pedal a stationary bike.

"I feel better physically and mentally; I feel wonderful inside and out," Sara told the authors of the book Successful Aging (Dell, 1999). "I must go for that exercise three times a week, I must. You have to push yourself."

From A Healthy Me

What are the benefits of over fifty fitness, besides the delight you have when you look in the mirror?

1. Improved neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, two important capacities of the human brain that are important for establishing a cognitive reserve of working neural circuitry to route signals around amyloid plaques

2. Improved walking ability. A University of Vermont study of healthy seniors ages 65 to 79 found that subjects could walk almost 40 percent farther without a rest after 12 weeks of weight training. Such endurance can come in handy for your next shopping trip, but there's an even better reason to pep up your gait. Among seniors, insufficient leg strength is a powerful predictor of future disabilities, including the inability to walk. An 89-year-old senior interviewed in Successful Aging said that after two years of weightlifting, "I walk straight instead of shuffling. It gives me lots of energy. My family can't believe it."

3. Ease in performing day-to-day tasks. By giving you the strength to handle your daily routines, weightlifting can help you maintain your independence. Researchers at the University of Alabama found that healthy women ages 60 to 77 who lifted weights three hours each week for 16 weeks could carry groceries and get up from a chair with much less effort than before.

4. Prevention of broken bones. Weightlifting can protect you from devastating fractures in several ways. For one, the exercises boost your strength, balance, and agility, making it less likely that you'll suffer a nasty fall. A study at Tufts University found that older women who lifted weights for a year improved their balance by 14 percent. (A control group composed of women who didn't lift weights suffered a 9 percent decline in balance in the same year.) Weight training can also build bone mass in the spine and the hip, so it's especially important for people with the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.

5. Relief from arthritis pain. By strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around your joints, weightlifting can dramatically improve your range of motion. It can also cut down on pain by increasing the capability of muscles surrounding the afflicted joint, which eases stress on the joint itself. Arthritis sufferers should begin by using light weights and work up to heavier ones very gradually.

6. Weight loss. Lifting weights doesn't burn many calories, but it does rev up your metabolism. Overweight seniors who combine strength training with a healthy diet are almost certain to shed a few pounds.

7. Improved glucose control. If you are among the millions of Americans with Type 2 diabetes, strength training can help you keep it under control. In one study of Hispanic men and women with diabetes, 16 weeks of strength training provided dramatic improvements, comparable to taking medication. The study also showed that volunteers increased muscle strength, lost body fat, and gained more self-confidence.

8. Other benefits. Studies suggest weight training can help people sleep better and even ease mild to moderate depression.

In Number 1 above, I mention neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

Neurogenesis is the word used to describe the daily growth of new neurons, which was something our brains will do for us if we do not fill our brains with toxins like booze or too much or too frequent adrenalin.

It is great that our brains do this, but it appears that to cement those new neurons into place I need to challenge them with a novel learning experience, like learning a new language or learning a new musical instrument, or using computerized brain fitness programs.

Neuroplasticity is the word used to describe the efforts our neurons make to connect to their neighboring neurons when new information is processed, which is very important in older brains.

If we are not challenging our neurons, not building new connections, the neurons die.

So how do we ensure that we are keeping our brains healthy along with our biceps?

Attending to the Pillars of Brain Fitness

In Brainfit for Life authors Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. report that the pillars of brain fitness are physical exercise, nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acid, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experience, which could include the computerized brain fitness programs like the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, tested on 500 plus Seniors in the IMPACT study, Lumosity, or the Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro.

Please see the right sidebar for links.

I own and use all three of those programs on my 64 year old brain, along with lots of physical exercise.

Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro - Software that makes you smarter
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