By Debbi Harper

Instructor, “Body Moves for Brain Power” & “The Brain Class – Change Your Mind”

Debbi Harper - Brain Power
Movement is so crucial to brain health that some of the cognitive changes blamed on aging may in fact be the result of inactivity. Indeed, research is showing that movement and certain activities help decrease the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Neurons are a type of brain cell, but they are not like other cells in the body. Skin cells, blood cells, muscle cells all have the ability to divide and reproduce themselves. Brain cells do not. But we can build brand new brain cells with new activities and physical activity. This, in turn, will build the brain’s cognitive reserve.

As the long-time instructor for “Body Moves for Brain Power,” I know that by doing these brain activities in a classroom setting we are “putting the icing on the cake” by adding the element of social interaction. The combining of physical movement with learning and social interaction seems to be the best combination for developing cognitive reserve.

Cognitive reserve is a powerful tool in healthy aging. Studies show that diverse, mentally stimulating tasks result in more brain cells, more robust connections among those cells and a greater ability to bypass age- or disease-related trouble spots in the brain.

The more physical and mental exercise you get, the more brain cells you grow, the longer they survive, the better they connect with other nerve cells, and the greater your cognitive reserve. The greater your reserve, the greater your ability to withstand the inevitable challenges of aging.

brain book debbi harper

Activities in my class force the brain to work hard. This hard brain work will help increase the blood flow to the brain as well as well as increase the release of BDNF. BDNF is that wonderful brain-derived neurotropic factor that helps start the process of producing new brain cells and helps protect the existing brain cells from injury and deterioration.
A portion of my class involves seated rhythmic moves coordinated with some great music. (No worries…these are easy moves but they will be give brains a great workout!).

Why do the moves to music? The New England Journal of Medicine published a clinical report that showed older people who danced regularly decreased their risk of dementia by 76 percent! So, in my class, we do moves in the chair that get the brain dancing!

Is it really that important to move? Yes!  Simple aerobic exercise done on a regular basis can improve functions in the brain by up to 20 percent. Art Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has found that a year of exercise can give a 70-year-old the connectivity of a 30-year-old in regards to improving memory, planning, dealing with ambiguity, and with multi-tasking.

In the words of Elvis Presley from his song A Little Less Conversation – “A little less conversation and a little more action please. Grab your coat and let’s start walking.”

Who knew Elvis Presley had such a grasp on fitness and brain health!
Debbi Harper will teach “The Brain Class – Change Your Mind,” which incorporates “Body Moves for Brain Power” principles, on Feb. 27. She recommends that students consult their healthcare provider before beginning this or any other exercise program.

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