The Importance of Exercising Your Mind

By Susan Salahshor, Ph.D., PA-C, DFAAPA

Cognitive Impairment

Diabetes, smoking, depression, midlife hypertension and obesity have a linked to Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are global problems. Two thirds of the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is due to genetics. The final third is due to the environmental and lifestyle factors. Cognitive impairment is very severe in patients suffering from dementia and leads to disability.

Patients, caregivers, and communities are searching for ways to slow down the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, prevention and early detention is a goal because lifestyle changes including physical activity slow cognitive impairment. If we can increase physical activity, we can decrease chronic disease that leads to cognitive impairment.

Exercise Your Body

For many years, we told patients to exercise four to five times a week for approximately 30-minutes/day. To many patients that was a huge task based on inactive lifestyles, medical conditions, disabilities, risk of falls and safety of environments. With so many factors limiting exercise and physical activity, providers began to encourage daily activity in general to encourage patients to get moving. There was a shift in focus from going to the gym to walking in the mall before business hours. Large community developments began including walking paths and larger fitness areas.  Fitness centers added walking tracks, swimming pools and gentle/chair yoga classes. Yoga studios began to pop up everywhere offering various techniques and options for individuals and families.  Some churches and communities began offering line-dancing classes to popular music and took physical activity to a new and fun level, which everyone could enjoyed.

Goals of effective physical activity:

  1. Make it fun. If it is not fun, you will not do it.
  2. Make it achievable. Start slow and increase weekly. One lap, two laps…
  3. Have an accountability partner. Pick someone who is going make you do it!
  4. Have a schedule and put it on your phone calendar. If it is not on the calendar, you will not do it.
  5. Be patient. Measure yourself against yourself, not against Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith.

Research shows physical activity:

  1. decreases the symptoms of dementia,
  2. Alzheimer disease,
  3. help us sleep better, and
  4. decreases the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  5. INCREASES cognitive health!

What is Exercising Your Mind?

Exercising your mind is the similar to exercising your body. Physical activity increases activity in the brain. Brain or mind exercise includes doing new activities. In 2014, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Texas study showed a new activity increases the capacity of the brain.

What can you do to Exercise YOUR Brain?

  1. Try a new hobby. (E.g. quilting, kayaking, golfing, fishing, hunting)
  2. Do homework with your grandchildren (My mom is doing 4th grade math.)
  3. Read a biography or autobiography.
  4. Play a new brain game (e.g. Suduko, many apps to choose from).
  5. Complete crossword or word search puzzle.
  6. Play a board game with your family or friends (competition is good for the brain).
  7. Play a game (Bridge, Bingo & Uno)
  8. Take a dance class.
  9. Try a new class at the gym.
  10. Pick something else not listed.
Dr. Salahshor is a Physician Assistant and teaching faculty at FSU COM in the Interdisciplinary Medical Science Program and School of Physician Assistant Practice.  She has practiced in at least ten specialties over the last twenty-four years and is a provider in ACV Good Samaritan Center. She facilitates Mental Health First Aid courses for Mayo Clinic Florida.
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