Elder Fitness

Maximize Your Brain Power With Exercise

As a regular reader of my letters, you know there’s a big difference between “being” old and “feeling” old.

Many people survive well into their 80s, 90s, and beyond… but their lives aren’t much better for it. Aging takes its toll on their mental faculties, and “senior moments” get worse and worse.

However, some buck that trend – keeping their sharp wit and mental stamina their whole lives.

Fortunately, research shows us that you don’t have to “feel” your age if you take the right steps.

And now, an exciting new study is shedding light on another way “super-agers” keep their brains active and strong.

In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, scientists found that neurons in the area of the brain responsible for memory were noticeably larger in “super-agers” compared to their peers.1

In fact, the super-agers had larger neurons than some individuals 20 to 30 years younger!

The researchers examined neurons located in the entorhinal cortex. That’s the area of the brain whose functions include navigation, time perception, and memory.

The super-agers, who were 80 and older, were compared to cognitively average individuals and those with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to being large and healthy, the neurons found in the super-agers’ brains were relatively free of tau tangles, one of the classic physical symptoms of cognitive decline.

Of course, the medical establishment likes to shrug off super-agers as people who won some genetic lottery.

And while everyone’s biology is a little different, studies show you can increase the size of your own brain, no matter how old you are.

And one of the best ways is by doing the right kind of workout.

For nearly three decades, I’ve been helping my patients boost their brain health, stay sharp, and improve their memory at any age. In all that time, I’ve found that one of the best strategies is to stay active. And science backs me up on this…

A new study from McMaster University proves that high-intensity exercise improves memory. Researchers divided a group of 64 sedentary but otherwise healthy adults into three groups.

One group did intense interval training. A second group did moderate exercise. The third control group simply stretched.2

After 12 weeks, the people who exercised with high intensity saw their memory improve as much as 30%.

Those who engaged in moderate exercise or only stretching saw no improvement.

In an earlier study from the same university, researchers found that those who engaged in a high-intensity workout program increased their supply of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

BDNF is like a “growth hormone” for the brain. It increases the creation and growth of nearly every type of neuron. It also increases the lifespan of existing neurons.

And it helps the brain develop new neural connections called synapses.3

One study showed that people with the highest levels of BDNF develop dementia 50% less often than people with lower levels.4

In the McMaster study, the high-intensity sessions included four sets of exercise for four minutes, followed by a recovery period. That’s similar to my PACE program… but it’s not as effective as it could be.

Practice PACE to Maximize Your Brain Power

At the Sears Institute for Anti-Aging Medicine, trials clearly show that short periods of exercise leaving you panting for breath are far superior for initiating growth and self-repair, plus greater BDNF production.

PACE is safe at any age. And it doesn’t matter if you’re out of shape. You start out easy, at your own level. Gradually, you increase your intensity as each move becomes easier.

I often recommend that patients begin with my favorite beginner move.

  1. Stand upright with your legs together, arms extended in front of your chest, and elbows bent.
  2. Lift your right knee toward your left elbow. At the same time, swing your right arm down and behind you.
  3. Return to starting position.
  4. Repeat the motion on the other side. Alternate those two marching-style movements until you reach your desired intensity. Then rest and recover.

Start slowly. It may take you a few sessions to build your strength and endurance. That’s OK. You’re boosting your brain the whole time.

To really maximize your PACE workout, I suggest coming to the Sears Institute for Anti-Aging Medicine if you’re in the South Florida area.

My son, a certified PACE instructor, teaches each class. Dylan has helped hundreds of patients transform their lives, bodies, and brains.

Call my clinic at 561-784-7852 and let my staff know when you want to come in to the practice.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD, CNS


References:

1. Nassif C, et al. “Integrity of neuronal size in the entorhinal cortex is a biologic substrate of exceptional cognitive aging.” J Neurosci. 2022 Sep 26;JN-RM-0679-22.
2. Kovacevic A, et al. “The effects of aerobic exercise intensity on memory in older adults.” Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2020 Jun;45(6):591-600.
3. Heisz JJ, et al. “The effects of physical exercise and cognitive training on memory and neurotrophic factors.” J Cogn Neurosci. 2017; 29 (11):1895-1907.
4. Weinstein G, et al. “Serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the risk for dementia: The Framingham Heart Study.” JAMA Neurol. 2014;71(1):55-61.
5. De la Rosa A, et al. “Physical exercise in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.” J Sport Health Sci.  2020; 9(1): 394–404.