Major health concerns around the world have always been heart disease and cancer. Today the number one fear around health is losing brain function as we age.
Most of us have family members and friends with some sort of dementia, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It is important to know that there is something you can do to support your own brain health and improve and maintain vital cognitive function. And it turns out to be simple – and fun!
Research by leading neuroscientists all over the globe has shown that the primary purpose of the brain is to control the movement of the body – and the best exercise for the brain is physical exercise. But what kind of physical exercise actually changes the brain for the better?
When we were children, from birth to late teens or early 20’s, we were physically learning new things and participating in new activities almost daily. We learned to walk, hop, skip, jump, throw a ball, play hopscotch, play on a team, ride a bike, drive a car, play tennis.
At some point, we stopped learning so many new things, and concentrated on doing what we were good at or liked most . . . and got better at those things by practicing them, which created strong neural pathways, or communications “highways” between the brain and body. But repetitive exercise does not fire nearly as many new brain cells or neurons as learning some new physical activity or game. And memory games like crossword puzzles only strengthen one or two functions of the brain, not all of the brain.
So when we were experimenting with new movements and new activities – we were rapidly firing neurons and improving total brain function as we discovered new physical skills. Basically, we used “play” to develop our brains and make them healthy and quick – without even knowing it.
As we age, however, many people stop playing and as George Bernard Shaw famously said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
One of the exercise programs designed to continue developing your brain, no matter what your age, is Ageless Grace. The exercises are based on “playfulness” and solid neuroscience and they help you continue to fire new neurons! It can improve your brainpower and functionality – and it can prevent the decline of brain function as you age.
Another wonderful trend to help keep seniors youthfully functional is the development of playgrounds for older people all over the world. Most of these playgrounds feature low-impact exercise equipment designed to promote flexibility, balance and coordination, minimize the risk of falls, build muscle strength and tone, extend their range of motion, and improve their manual dexterity along with areas that promote community and self-confidence. Even though it will improve physical and mental health, just like kids’ playgrounds, they’re meant to be fun. Hopefully we will see this happening in SA soon too!