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August 2020
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Putting on Size…Brain Size, That Is

active-senior-coupleResearchers:  Exercise Adds Size to Brain, Improves Spatial Memory

I can honestly say that some of the most together and articulate senior citizens I know are those I’ve met through my health club.  You name the cliché – “with it,” “on the ball,” “sharp as a tack,” you name it – their mental prowess is something special.

It’s no coincidence that this is the case, for the brain actually increases in size and ability depending on that person’s physical fitness.

This is according to researchers from the Universities of Chicago and Pittsburgh, who performed brain scans on the hippocampus region of senior citizen participants.  The motley crew of participants (ages ranged between 59 and 81, so many of them did not meet the standard definition of senior citizen) also went through a slew of physical fitness tests that gauged just HOW fit they were. 

Here’s what they found:  the fittest of the flock had the largest brains, purely from a physical standpoint.  But it wasn’t just that their brains were bigger – their brains functioned better.  Specifically, they were better at spatial reasoning.  Spatial reasoning is a high falutin’ phrase doctors use that in layman’s terms refers to one’s ability to recognize repeating patterns, similarities and differences between two or more things, objects or people.  The part of the brain where spatial reasoning takes place is in the hippocampus, which also happens to be the portion of the brain that’s most adversely affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related issues.

This is a truly amazing discovery that ought to embolden each and every one of us to strive to continue exercising throughout our lives.  Rarely do we consider how often we use spacial reasoning skills, but we use them all the time, hundreds if not thousands of times a day:  from deciphering what food is what, what face belongs to what name, and where we left our set of keys or pair of reading glasses (and which ones are ours).  Through exercise, we can maintain our spacial reasoning skills for the balance of our lives. 

Art Kramer, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study, made the following observation about his study that really struck a chord with me:  “Here is yet more evidence that becoming fit has implications for how well you’re going to live your life.”

It’s not a profound statement by any means, but a statement that sort of summarizes the whole point to why exercise every day is so important:  it determines how WELL our lives will be lived today, tomorrow, and years down the road.  Keep that in mind on those days when you’ve hit a wall in your enthusiasm for exercise.  Those days happen; all of us tend to get burnt down by monotonous tasks (and let’s be honest, exercise can get monotonous, even when you change your routine).  The trick is to fight through that wall, and recognize that what you’re doing has virtually no downside.  Exercise is all upside:  an upside that adds years to your physical vivacity and mental longevity. 

Science Daily

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Comment from Norm Shaw
Time March 4, 2009 at 5:10 pm

seriously I can hardly ever in all my years find a hat big enough to fit me-I am very serious-I exercise too much but that is better than not enough.Cheers,Norm

Comment from Edwin G P Martell
Time March 4, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Hello Frank,

I enjoy your newsletter and have learned a lot from it. I have one question though. I am a disabled Vet. I can walk but not for long. I have a hard time finding aerobic exercises that do not involve the legs. My legs literally collapse before I can work up a sweat. I have tried some of those gadgets as seen on TV but they are either inefficient or require too much strain on the legs.

Can you recommend a method of cardio, aerobic exercises that don’t involve the legs. I’m old (67) and flabby and want to change that. What do you suggest?

Ed Martell
Arlington, WA

Comment from Rose kangethe
Time March 4, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Frank thank you for the newsletters. I have just re started my exercising and i feel great. Thank you for the encouragement to keep going because i get into this habit of leaving it for a while.

The info with the bllod pressure helped me observe what i put in my body. I feel great being able to control what i eat.

God bless you.


Comment from sunita
Time March 5, 2009 at 3:17 am

Hi Frank
I have recently subscribed to your newsletter and find it very informative. I totally agree with you that excercise is good and at my age of 54 and with asthma, and osteoporosis and now cholesterol too, i find that yoga is a good way to keep fit…
I dont know if it will help any of our readers but i had lost 1.5kilos in weight doing serious birsk walks for about 45 minutes along with yoga and that too simple ones but this definitely should go hand in hand with diet….
Hope this is of help to your readers..

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