Fighting Dementia: One Step A Time

The walking cure for dementia? Can taking a nice walk several times a week help you prevent dementia? Research seems to indicate that by engaging in a regular physical activity we can reduce the onset of dementia.

If you are caring for an elderly person it’s vitally important that you get them to be physically active. But it may not be necessary to sign grandma up for a spin class. A simple walk in the park several times a week can actually help promote healthy brain functions better than simple, boring calisthenics and stretching exercises.

Home Health Aides, Walking Companions

By hiring a home health care aide to visit with your aging loved one several times a week you can give them the gift of a healthier brain in a more fulfilling lifestyle.  A home care aide can take your aging parents out for a walk on a regular basis. It really doesn’t matter where they go as much as that they do go someplace outside the home.

It’s a vicious cycle, as we age we become tired more easily and so we tend to limit our physical activity.   The lack of physical activity causes us to atrophy, making us weaker and less likely to be physically active. This sinister cycle goes beyond just our physical strength; it actually impacts our cognitive abilities as well.

Fighting dementia can be as easy as taking a 40 minute walk three times a week. While it’s no mystery that physical activity helps promote brain health the type of activity you engage in matters.  Simply stretching and doing toning exercises does not stimulate the brain as much as physical activity that requires you to interact with the world outside you.

Our brains operate in default mode most of the time. When we the default mode network (DMN) dominates the brains activity it requires very little conscious effort. This is the mode that we end up in when we are doing something passive like a routine task were watching some silly television program. The default mode conserves mental energy, just like sitting on a couch conserves physical energy. But sitting on a couch although weakens our bodies just like passive thinking reduces our cognitive abilities over time.

Recent research seems to indicate that regular walking can improve our cognitive abilities by activating other mental modes. Crossing a busy street, smiling at a passerby and looking in shop windows can help the city dweller keep their mind more actively engaged than dawdling around the house. A walk around the park or the countryside and observing the wonder and drama of nature will do more for our minds than listening to talk radio.

You don’t need a lot of strenuous exercise to get the brain benefits of walking. The key is to engage in something that is going to snap you out on your autopilot mode. In simple terms, it’s very important that you don’t let your brain gets rusty from lack of use. Provide yourself with plenty of different types of experiences that fully engage your mind on different levels.

It seems that aerobic exercise contributes to improving executive functions (like planning, multi-tasking, memory) – and that non-aerobic activity does not help improve these functions (but stretching and toning are important – because you can’t do very much walking when you are stiff and weak).

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