Olga Kotelko, heard of the name? Why don’t you YouTube her?
She Runs Like A Girl
You’ll find videos of the the-then 93-year-old holding her own in track athletics. And she wasn’t a life-long track and field sports person either; she got into it at the age of 77. Now doctors of all specialisations might have wanted to study her body, but it is a study by neurologists, not geriatrics specialists, that is making waves.
Doctors just published a paper on a brain scan of hers in Neurocase, a neurology journal.
It turns out that her brain did, indeed, look much different from those of her relatively inactive (physically) peers. Fewer abnormalities in the white matter and her hippocampus, the part of the brain that handles our memory was much larger than the control group, though the dataset still wasn’t large enough, given how the relative rarity of nonagenarians like Ms Kotelko.
So What Can Exercise Do For Seniors’ Mental Health?: Prevent Alzheimer’s And Dementia
It can prevent the descent into cognitive decline or at least shore up against it. Diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, curtailing a host of cognitive brain functions along the way. Now diet and exercise cannot cure Alzheimer’s (though cutting edge medical research on the disease will find another way) exercise prevents the shrinking of the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical to memory and learning.
In fact, a study showed that even running sprints can improve vocabulary retention amongst healthy adults!
Build Brain Power
Studies, not just on lab mice but also humans, have shown that strenuous cardio can actually create new brain cells, a phenomenon known as neurogenesis, which leads to overall improved brain performance. It can increase levels of brain-derived proteins in the body.
Helps Seniors Sleep Better
Now a number of seniors do complain of sleeping disorders, and that is where exercise can help as well. For a number of individuals, both young and old, a moderate workout may be the equivalent of a sleeping pill. In addition to the endorphins released as a result of the workout, the subsequent good night’s sleep at night can really make the following day pleasant and healthy. A positive feedback loop that can keep seniors in a good mood throughout.
Provide Inspiration, Not Just To Peers But Those Much Younger!
Last – and this is more of a public health aspect rather than a health aspect – seniors seeing other seniors exercising can certainly shake off their self-doubt about exercise. In fact, the mere sight of a sprinting senior can shame middle-aged individuals into taking time out the next day for a nice, long run.
So, how about it, old-timers? How about taking things further than that morning walk and really hitting the gym. Look at a fitness centre near you, with a trainer who will recommend an appropriate regime. As we’ve learnt, it’ll do good for more than your body.