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Mental exercise can build cognitive reserve


Every morning most of us wake up and think about the day’s activities. For many, that includes exercise to keep the body fit. But what about mental fitness? How many people can say that they put equal emphasis on exercising their brain?

According to experts, it’s more important than you think. Just as we build muscle strength to keep our bodies fit, studies show that we need to build cognitive reserve to help our brains ward off memory problems and keep our minds active. Research indicates that mental fitness activities, along with a healthy diet and an exercise regimen that includes a combination of aerobic and strength-training, can help to build new neuro-connections in the brain and improve cell function. It is this cognitive reserve that aging adults can draw on to maintain brain function.

“We added our MBA Club several years ago to encourage residents to exercise mind and body through designated activities and, while our whole menu is healthy, we include and note foods that boost brain power,” said Beverly Sanborn, Vice President of Programming for Belmont Village. “Our activities, as a whole, are therapeutic, in that they are designed to engage the brain and body in ways that support physical and cognitive health. They’re fun, but they’re smart too.”

Building reserve early is important – changes in the brain can start decades before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to show. Simultaneously engaging mind, memory and body movement on a regular basis could mean delaying the onset of memory loss for people in their 50s and 60s. For people in their 70s and 80s, who may already be experiencing loss of memory beyond normal aging, there is hope that a carefully planned and structured day of activities can slow the progression and help maintain function and quality of life.

Experts agree that exercises that use a combination of learning new things, practice organizing ideas, problem solving, and recall of long-term learning are crucial, as is social interaction. “The key is to try something new and challenging,” said Sanborn. “At Belmont Village, our goal is to create those opportunities for our residents.”