"It's Never Too Late...."

Related topics: Health & Wellness, Senior Life

Health-promoting pastimes that benefit us at any age

Ongoing research pinpoints things we can do throughout life to ensure that our senior years will be as healthy as possible. Those of us who are already 65 and older might think we can't benefit from this new research. But it turns out that we can still reap the rewards of activities that protect our bodies and minds. Here is some good news from three recent studies:

Walking for Heart Health

Most of us know that a lifetime of aerobic activity protects the heart, and that walking is one of the best ways to exercise.  But when we turn 65, we should slow down, right? Not so! According to a study released by the American Heart Association in May 2014, maintaining your level of physical activity can cut the risk of heart attack—and the experts even recommend that many seniors increase the frequency and speed of their walking workouts. "Any physical activity is better than none, but maintaining or increasing your activity has added heart benefits as you age," says Dr. Luisa Soares-Miranda of the Harvard School of Public Health. "So if you feel comfortable with your usual physical activity, do not slow down as you get older—try to walk an extra block or walk at a faster pace. If you're not physically active, it is never too late to start."

The team also caution that when we decrease the intensity of our workout, we lose some of the benefits gained through a lifetime of fitness. Retirement is no time to cut back on your exercise regimen! Use some of your newfound leisure hours to focus on cardiac fitness. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before beginning or increasing your exercise program.

Musical Training for Brain Health

In 2011, researchers from Emory University demonstrated that seniors who had played a musical instrument throughout their lives gained a brain fitness advantage. Lead researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, Ph.D., explained, "Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging. Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we grow older."

Music advocates are pointing to this and similar studies as they advocate for music programs in our schools. But what about those of us who never took music lessons in our younger years? Here's some good news: Researchers from University of Liverpool in the UK recently demonstrated that musical training can benefit older adults by increasing blood flow to the area of the brain responsible for certain cognitive tasks, including language—even after only one session! Check out music classes in your local senior center, senior living community or your parks department and give your brain a boost while having a great time.

Bilingualism Slows Cognitive Decline

In 2010, researchers from the Rotman Research Institute in Canada found that people who were raised bilingual—speaking two or more languages—experienced a delay of Alzheimer's symptoms. Lead researcher Dr. Fergus Craik said, "We are not claiming that bilingualism in any way prevents Alzheimer's or other dementias, but it may contribute to cognitive reserve in the brain, which appears to delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms for quite some time."

As with the music study, this research should be considered as we plan education programs for our children. But what about those of us who never worked foreign language study into our school schedules? Here's a welcome update:  In June of this year, a study published by the American Neurological Association showed that acquiring a second language may slow cognitive decline even for those who learn it as adults. What great motivation to check out language classes in your area, or online! Says Dr. Thomas Bak of the University of Edinburgh, "Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain."   

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2014 IlluminAge.

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