Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Can Physical Activity Improve Your Memory?

GettyImages-1284970958We all know that exercise is great for your health, but too often we think of improving our health as being able to move better, losing weight, having more energy, decreasing stress, or even improving our heart health, which are all great benefits don’t get me wrong! However, did you know that exercise can improve our memory and cognitive function as well? If not, you aren’t alone. The benefits that exercise can give our brain often tend to be overlooked.

Studies have shown that active individuals who are middle aged or older perform better on memory tests than those who are inactive. The best part is that being physically active does not have to mean doing an intense workout 7 days a week. Many studies have compared physically active people to those who are sedentary. These physically active people could simply be getting up and walking around for a few minutes every hour or going for a 20-minute walk at a leisurely pace most days of the week. Of course, being in the health and fitness field, we like to encourage individuals to try more formal types of exercise as well, but the benefits of simply getting up and moving should not be forgotten, especially when it comes to brain health.

A recent study that was published in November 2021 in the Journal of Neuroscience* found that active individuals in their 80s scored better on cognitive and memory tests than those individuals in the same age group who were more sedentary. The researchers also found that after some of the individuals had died, they were able to look at their brains and see that the inactive individuals showed greater signs of memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease. Once again, I think it’s important to note that of the active individuals, there were few who formally exercised. Those who were in the active group simply moved more and spent less time being still.

So, what does that mean for us? It means, keep moving! If you find yourself sitting for long periods of time throughout the day, try the following tips:

  • Set an alarm to go off every hour or put up a sticky note near your favorite chair that reminds you to move.
  • Walk the halls in your community or, when the weather is nice, walk around the grounds for 15-20 minutes.
  • See your NIFS fitness staff for some stretches that you can do at home while you’re watching TV
  • If you want to really keep your memory and cognitive function sharp, try combining movement with spelling words or assigning a movement with a color. For example, you are assigned blue to stepping forward, red to stepping sideways, and yellow to stepping backwards. Have a friend say one of the colors and step to the direction associated with the color. The challenge is remembering which direction is assigned to each color. You can challenge the brain, while having fun!

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Topics: active aging memory physical activity

The Healthy Exercise Pyramid

Pyramid

As Fitness Centers and gyms have opened back up after closing from the Pandemic, it’s a good time to restart our exercise routines and habits. There are many components to meet the healthy recommendation for exercise in older adults such as cardio, strength or endurance training, balance, and flexibility. To break it down, I decided to use the same model as the food pyramid and create an exercise version of that pyramid. Over the years the food pyramid has been used to simplify what quantities to eat of what food groups. Larger quantities shown in the bottom of the pyramid and the least quantities at the top. In this model the same concept applies. All components of exercise are necessary for a healthy exercise lifestyle but the exercise components on the bottom should be done more than the quantities at the top.

Cardio can be done almost every day. It is the base foundation of a healthy exercise lifestyle. It should be done about 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes (or 150 minutes/week). It helps strengthen one of the most important organs of the body: the heart. Luckily, it can be done simply through walking, biking or using cardio machines in your local Fitness Center.

Either strength training or endurance should be done at least twice a week on nonconsecutive days and includes exercises for each large muscle group of upper and lower body. Not as often as cardio but still a firm foundation to the body and upkeeping muscle strength to perform ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) like cooking, cleaning, getting around the house or other buildings and activities that make life more enjoyable like hobbies or recreational activities.

Balance and Flexibility are recommended about 2-3 times a week for maybe 10-15 minutes. This becomes important the older we get as every day injuries become more apparent due to falling and low flexibility. It is also important for seniors because as the risk of falling increases and the chances of getting severe injuries from falls increases.

The top category is Rest Days. Everyone’s rest time looks different but is important to everyone’s body. Rest can include proper sleep, rest from exercise or rest from an injury. With rest from sleep, it helps us function better during the day, being more aware of our surroundings to help reduce falls and giving us energy to exercise. Rest from exercise helps prevent an injury from over training. There is a reason strength training isn’t recommended every day. To repair the muscles from training they need to rest to recover and build back up. Rest from injury is another important element to a healthy active life. By not allowing injuries to properly recover decreases the benefits from future exercise as you aren’t able to do it 100% and it may cause more injury due to overcompensation.

There’s no one category of exercise that can help fulfill the benefits of all the different categories combined throughout the week. When residents come to ask what specific exercise, they can do to better their life, is like asking what food they can eat to decrease weight quickly. It must all be combined to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. There are a lot of elements to a healthy lifestyle but broken down into a week, picking just one or two a day will help fulfill a weeks’ worth of exercise recommendation. Just like we need to eat and supply our bodies with energy every day we need to utilize the energy created in the most optimal way to better our life for the next day, week or month.

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Topics: active aging physical activity exercise and aging

The Impact of Physical Activity on Mood

GettyImages-1073381110The impact of physical activity on mood has been researched over the last few decades. There has been speculation that an increase in physical activity can provide a substantial positive impact on one’s mood, but to what extent? Let’s dive into the known relationship between physical activity and mood, how much of an effect physical activity can have, and finally will provide a few brief explanations over the mechanisms of which physical activity increases mood!

Multiple studies have shown clear consensus for the benefits that physical activity has on the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It has been shown that the increase levels of physical activity and exercise are inversely correlated with depression levels. Exercise is also being shown to improve other quality of life indicators for individuals such as improvement in self-esteem, vitality, general well-being, and satisfaction with physical appearance.

There has been a lot of speculation from the actual significance that physical activity has on mood. Physical activity has had similar effects on depression symptoms as compared to those of antidepressant medications. Even maintaining this “antidepressant’ effect that can outlast the exercise period. These findings can have a beneficial impact on even people that are not suffering from clinical levels of depression. In terms of what facet of fitness has an impact on mood, both aerobic and anaerobic methods of exercise have shown an immensely beneficial impact. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise programs (where roughly 65% of a persons VO2 Max is reached) showed improvements in behavioral, mood, and anxiety responses. However, strength (anaerobic) training at low to moderate intensities produced the most reliable and robust decrease in improvements!

Now that I have shown the benefits of exercise, let me explain some of the mechanisms that can cause this improvement in mood. There are two different complex biological mechanisms that occur in your body that may explain the boost in mood with regards to exercise. Firstly, it may be due to a response within the body that has to do with inflammation. Physical activity and exercise reduce chronic inflammation in the body, which is then joined by a lower expression and usage of tryptophan. This limited usage of tryptophan will lead to accumulation, which then results in additional tryptophan being within the bloodstream for your central nervous system. Tryptophan has two major jobs for us in this case: it aids in the biosynthesis (creation) of serotonin, and it also seems to aid in the transmission of serotonin across the blood-brain barrier. As more tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier, consequently higher serotonin concentrations are found in the brain as well.

Another possible biological explanation is the endorphin perspective that physical activity and exercise can play on mood. Endorphins are produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands during strenuous exercise. They often resemble opiates in their ability to produce euphoria and analgesia. Exercise elicits the secretion of these endorphins in the brain reducing pain and cause general euphoria. Which then later, these same endorphins may reduce anxiety and depression levels.

Have you found that regular exercise affects your mood? Share below!

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Topics: physical activity exercise and health mental health

Active Aging: Taking the Extra Step Toward Fitness

senior playing with a dogHow many times do you circle a parking lot looking for that perfect spot right in front of the door? It doesn’t matter if I am at the supermarket, a sporting event, a restaurant, or even the gym (sad, but true); I see people circling the lot like they’re in the Indy 500. As I get out of my car and walk to my destination, all I can do is ask myself, “Do they really think they are benefiting from parking in front of the door?”

My reasons for parking in the back of lots have changed over the years, but the end result hasn’t, and that is more steps walked equals more calories burned.

Can You Walk 10,000 Steps Per Day?

If you have ever been in a walking program or used a pedometer, there is a good chance you were advised to hit the 10,000-steps-per-day mark, but what does that mean? Is it attainable? Let’s break it down into numbers we deal with on a regular basis.

The average person’s stride length (the distance between successive points of contact of the same foot) is about 2.5 feet, so one step would be about 16 inches (assuming a normal walking pattern), which means you take about 4,000 steps to walk a mile. So if your goal is 10,000 steps per day, you will walk about 2 miles per day. If you consistently hit that 10,000-step mark, you are considered moderately active.

But what about the people who frequently take less than 5,000 steps per day? People in this group are considered sedentary. A drastic increase in steps can lead to many people quitting shortly after starting. People looking to increase their daily steps should look to add about 500 to 1,000 steps per day and increase at this rate every week until they hit their goal. So if you currently take 5,000 steps a day and you are increasing your steps by 1,000 per day per week, it will take you 5 weeks to hit your 10,000-step goal.

How to Walk More Steps

So where can you find these hidden steps, you ask? Here are a few activities you can adjust to add extra steps:

  • Parking farther back in parking lots: Parking an additional 20 spaces back equals about 200 steps round trip.
  • Getting up to change the channel: Changing channels 6 times per day equals about 60 steps total.
  • Walking to consult a coworker as opposed to calling them: Based on 2 round-trips of 60 feet equals about 200 steps.
  • Take the stairs: Taking the stairs causes more caloric expenditure than walking on a flat surface, and one flight equals about 15 steps.
  • Walk your pet: Walking around the block equals about 1,000 steps.

These are easy ways to add a few hundred steps to your day; pick and choose all, one, or something else. The goal is to go at your pace and to do what you like; anything else will just lead to a decline in program adherence until you ultimately quit. The steps you need are all around you, and if you look hard enough I guarantee you can find the time and energy to take an extra step.

Topics: employee health walking employee wellness fitness healthy habits staying active physical activity counting steps

Physical Activity and Exercise Help Seniors Stay Independent

senior exercisePhysical activity and exercise are two different terms that have similar concepts. Physical activity such as gardening, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, shopping, and taking the stairs gets your body moving. Exercise is a form of physical activity that is specifically planned, structured, and repetitive, such as strength training, yoga, or aerobics class. Both physical activity and exercise are great for seniors to keep up the daily activities they enjoy.

Is Your Physical Activity Decreasing?

It is common that the amount of physical activity we perform declines as we age. For instance, how many times have you heard, seen, or even said the following:

  • “I just can’t shop at the mall like I used to. It just seems so big!”
  • “Let’s take the elevator; the stairs are too strenuous for me now.”
  • “I hired the neighbor to mow my lawn once a week; it is just too difficult for me anymore.”
  • “My daughter comes over to help me with my housecleaning once a week; it has just gotten too difficult for me to do everything.”
  • “I gave up gardening; it just got to be too much.”

These phrases are all examples of common physical activity that may decrease in volume with age. Does any of these phrases sound familiar to you or maybe a family member or friend? If so, and you do not feel that you are getting enough physical activity in your life; it is beneficial, if not critical, for you to start an exercise program.

It’s Never Too Late to Start an Exercise Program

Good news! Exercise programs can be modified and designed to fit the needs of everyone, no matter the age, ability, or level, and it is never too late to start. So whether or not your physical activity level has decreased, there is always an exercise program out there for you! More good news! Once you start an exercise program, some of those physical activities that were “too much” before may be worked back into your life!

Check out these tips from the American College of Sports Medicine, “Starting a New Exercise Program and Sticking With It.”

Staying physically active and starting an exercise program can improve your balance, help manage and prevent disease, help reduce feelings of depression and improve overall well-being, and improve your ability to do things you want to do!

Do you feel like your amount of physical activity has declined? If so, what have you done to stay active? Maybe it is time to start an exercise program today!

Topics: exercise active aging disease prevention balance senior fitness physical activity

Fitness Benefits of Gardening and Lawn Work

senior gardeningGardening and lawn work are not only good for cultivating healthy and delicious food and beautiful landscaping, but they are great ways to stay active. Think about all the tools that are used for gardening and yard work: rakes, hoes, wheelbarrows, clippers, shovels, watering cans, and many more. The use of these tools requires the work of all major muscle groups, including your legs, arms, buttocks, stomach, neck, and back.

Treat Gardening Like a Workout

Like any workout, you should always begin with a warm-up. Start with light tasks and work your way up to the heavier, more strenuous activities. For example, start by walking around your lawn or garden, thinking about your plan of action for your project. This will give you a light warm-up, while stimulating your brain at the same time. Remember, make sure you are wearing the appropriate clothing, including a hat and sunscreen.

After the warm-up, begin to gather all of your tools from the shed. You can now start digging, setting plants, carrying water, weeding, pruning, and mowing. All of these activities will increase your heart rate and tone your body. Make sure to take frequent water breaks so that you will not become dehydrated. Once you are done with your beautiful masterpiece, don’t forget to cool down. Take a slow walk around your lawn or garden and admire the hard work you have done.

Gardening Workout Reminders

There are a few important points to remember before and during your workout.

  • If you are new to gardening or your body is not used to strenuous activities, you may need to break your workout into smaller sessions.
  • When you lift heavy objects, always lift with your legs. If you need assistance with heavy objects, ask for help.

If You Don't Have a Yard but Still Want to Garden or Be Outdoors

If you do not have a large landscaping or gardening area, you can pot flowers or different kinds of herbs and vegetables for your porch or deck. You will still be working your muscles by adding dirt to the pots, digging holes for the plants, and also from the upkeep of weeding and watering the plants regularly.

If gardening is not an interest to you and you would like to get exercise outside, try walking around your neighborhood with a group of friends to admire other landscaping and gardens. You could even take a trash bag and clean up your neighborhood. You will be exercising and helping the environment at the same time! There are many ways to stay active, so make being healthy, fun!

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Topics: walking active aging exercise at home senior fitness physical activity