The Brain and Exercise “Use it or Lose it.”

Written by Dr. Thomas P. Sattler

Do you know that we can actually get smarter as we get older. The “Use It or Lose It” theory is now widely accepted by scientists in the medical community. Cognitive ability and physical activity are very much related. We know that physical exercise is associated with improved attention, concentration and the ability to remember. Since the brain is a muscle, just like the other muscles in the body, the brain can get stronger when it is used, and it will get weaker when it is ignored.

In the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003, it was reported that participants who did the most activities were 63% less likely to develop dementia, as compared to those who did the least. For every additional activity someone did on a weekly basis, there was a 7 % reduction in the likelihood of developing dementia.

Physical performance measures in older adults (e.g., walking speed or chance of falling) are associated with cognitive functioning. When cognitive challenges and exercises are incorporated together, this is referred to as “dual tasking.” The Symbria - The Brain and Exercise "Use it or Lose it"regular practice of dual tasking can improve memory and decrease the falls in older adults.

Here is a good example of dual tasking. Try this one out with a friend the next time you go for a walk. Take the words (waiter, parrot, dish, spoon, sunlight, camera, gym shoes and bench). Start walking together and think of how you will use these words in a story you each make up. Don’t talk to one another, just think about your story using all 8 words. When you have completed your story, tell it to your friend, but remember you have to use all 8 words. Listen to your friend’s story and then recall the eight words you use in each story. You won’t believe how far you have walked and how well you can remember the words.

Try to remember the 7 “Rules of Brain Improvement:”

  1. The brain must be attentive and focused on a task and challenged beyond normal activity
  2. Repetitive activity is a must
  3. The brain links all the memories of the past
  4. Positive or negative change can occur based on the stimulus input
  5. Initial changes are temporary at first, but increase with practice
  6. Memory is crucial for learning
  7. Motivation is the key- Remember the brain is asking you to be young

Help your residents put their brain and body to the task – “dual tasking that is.”


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