Exercising Your Brain is Just as Important as Physical Exercise for Healthy Aging

Oct 28, 2020

It has long been known that physical exercise can help to prevent diseases, so it seems only natural that mental exercises would do the same thing. Unfortunately, most gyms and fitness centers don't focused on mental exercises. However, you still can! One of the best forms of mental exercise is to learn new things. Brain exercises help maintain your overall health and wellbeing and support healthy aging.

The University of Texas at DallasCenter for Vital Longevity’s research that sustained engagement in learning new skills that activated working memory, episodic memory, and reasoning over a period of 3 months enhanced cognitive function in older adults. Participants in the study learned to quilt, learned digital photography, or engaged in both activities for an average of 16.51 hours a week for 3 months and the findings suggest that sustained engagement in cognitively demanding, new learning activities enhances memory function in older adults.

Physical Exercise Combined With Brain Exercise Maximizes Healthy Aging

Image: Wikimedia Commons: File:Brainfood Pyramid.png Exercise, learning, socialization, music, meditation, and relaxation all help support healthy aging. 

Considering that the US life expectancy has increased by 30-50 years in the last 100 years alone we need to start relooking at aging and how to do it healthily. Brain and Physical exercise are as important as ever to maintain healthy cognitive and physical function year after year. One of the key aspects found to help with neuroplasticity and overall well-being was learning.

Ingo Rauth Ph. D and Chip Conley wrote an article to start a conversation around the idea of The Emergence Of Long Life Learning.

According to them, “Long life learning” focuses on developing a sense of purpose and personal well-being by understanding the positive aspects of aging congruent with established adult development theories to create more resilience through midlife transitions.”

They believe that programs that encourage these concepts foster communities of peers who share wisdom and foster a sense of purpose and personal well-being. Learners with shared visions around the positive aspects of aging and resilience through transitions can then support each other in a positive aging environment.

Aging does not have to be about loss or decline. People have control of their aging and can actively make choices that support improving both their physical and cognitive health at any point in the aging process!

Carol D. Ryff from the University of Wisconsin developed the Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being which has been used as a metric for aging health. While the concept has been revisited and enhanced several times the basic principles remain the same.

6 Factors That Determine Psychological Well-being and Happiness

1. Self-Acceptance - holding healthy attitudes towards self. “Self-acceptance is crucial to mental health. The absence of an ability to unconditionally accept oneself can lead to a variety of emotional difficulties, including uncontrolled anger and depression,” according to Shelley Carson & Ellen Langer.

2. Positive Relations with Others - developing and maintaining warm, authentic, and trusting interpersonal relationships with others. Developing these relationships is crucial since they increase life expectancy by 50% compared to poor relationships.

3. Autonomy - the capability to comfortably make decisions independently and regulate behavior based on internal standards. According to Harry Reis’ book, autonomy also “involves perceiving that one’s activities are endorsed by or congruent with the self.”

4. Environmental Mastery - the ability to choose or create environments that align with one’s personal needs. When one perceives themselves as able to control their environment they can reach self-satisfaction with their situations.

5. Purpose in Life - a sense of goal, intention, and direction that makes life meaningful. Often, a sense of purpose comes from contributing to the greater good of one’s community or humanity through volunteering. This increased purpose has shown to positively affect happiness and health in studies related to volunteering.

6. Personal Growth - a feeling of exploration and development. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert suggests that “human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished” (Gilbert, 2014).  Thus according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset, which thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities,  is essential to defying the societal stereotype of decline. No matter their age learners must be curious, humble, and open to learning.

Learning communities like GetSetUp focused on shared wisdom and learning at later stages in life are helping to increase all-around well-being.

Norman Reiss, GetSetUp’s Customer Success Manager, felt that the quote "Wisdom isn't taught, it is shared" resonated with him. As he said, “By continuing to ask our learners to fully participate in our classes, we are giving them an opportunity to learn from each other and not only from our Guides.”

So what’s stopping you from improving your cognitive and physical health? Hopefully nothing!

Exercise that brain by joining a class at your local community center, college, or through the virtual community of life-long learners at GetSetUp. Learn something new, share your wisdom, and create positive relationships with learners around the globe!

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