Regular readers of my blog will know that I have written before about Alzheimer’s and mental conditions, as this is a very personal issue for me (see Dementia: I lost my father, don’t lose yours, Mental health and exercise and Let’s talk about depression).
So as a fitness professional and a Pilates and functional training presenter, I am very interested by studies that link exercise with mental health and brain function, and I am convinced that this link exists and should influence us as trainers and the public in general.
All Pilates teachers will be very familiar with the mind and body link, but in my opinion every trainer should also consider this. I am happy to report to you about a recent study in the US that suggests that aerobic exercise in your 20s may protect the brain in middle age. Activities that maintain cardio fitness such as running, swimming and cycling, led to better thinking skills and memory 20 years on.
Scientists say the research adds to evidence the brain benefits from good heart health. As fitness professionals will know, cardio fitness is a measure of how well the body absorbs oxygen during exercise and transports it to the muscles. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, tested almost 3,000 healthy people with an average age of 25. They underwent treadmill tests of cardiovascular fitness during the first year of the study and again 20 years later. They were asked to run for as long as possible before they became exhausted or short of breath.
Cognitive tests taken 25 years after the start of the study measured memory and thinking skills. People who ran for longer on the treadmill performed better at tests of memory and thinking skills 25 years on, even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol. People who had smaller time differences in their treadmill test 20 years later were more likely to perform better on the executive function test than those who had bigger differences.
“Many studies show the benefits to the brain of good heart health,” said study author Dr David Jacobs. “This is one more important study that should remind young adults of the brain health benefits of cardio fitness activities such as running, swimming, biking or cardio fitness classes.” Dr Jacobs said a concept was emerging of total fitness, incorporating social, physical and mental aspects of health. “It’s really a total package of how your body is and the linkage of that entire package of performance – that’s related to cognitive function many years later and in mid-life,”
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “A growing body of evidence suggests exercise may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and much research has shown a link between healthy habits in mid-life and better health in old age. Investment in research is vital to better understand how we can protect our brains as we age.”
So this information, taken in conjunction with previous studies detailed in my previous blogs, continues to add weight to the body of evidence that suggests our physical and our mental state are inextricably linked. The concept of “total fitness”, meaning that all trainers should be thinking about advising their clients of the social and mental aspects of their health as well as the physical aspects, is something that I incorporated into my Pilates EVO© and my bodyFUNC© systems several years ago.
If we want to get the best results for our clients, and give the best possible service, it is not enough to simply give them a training problem for their gym sessions. Our advice must go much further and much deeper.