The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Value of Exercise

We've all heard and read about how exercise is so important as we age, and how it continues to be important for anyone dealing with dementia, both the PlwD and the care partner. Exercise increases blood flow...and oxygen...to the brain, increasing general functioning. But there is so much more!

Exercise is a great stress reliever. It immediately increases the levels of serotonin, noradrenalin, dopamine and endorphins.
  • Serotonin is a feel good chemical that fights depression, common with most dementias, most chronic diseases--and most caregivers.
  • Noradrenalin improves awareness and increases the ability to focus. Apathy, inattention and a short attention span are common dementia symptoms, all involving awareness and focusing.
  • Dopamine facilitates small motor function and decreases depression. Dopamine is one of the chemicals targeted by Lewy bodies, making depression a chronic LBD symptom. (And of course, dopamine also facilitates small motor function, decreasing the tremors, slowness of movement and stiffness of PD.)
  • Endorphins are natural pain relievers. Dementia is mostly a disease of the elderly, who have other illnesses such as arthritis. However, traditional pain relievers are often not recommended due to gastric discomfort or drug sensitivities. And there's more yet! 
Exercise increases cognitive function. It immediately increases the level of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDMF), a growth factor chemical that facilitates new brain cells and maintains long term growth.
  • BDMF increases a person's ability to maintain focus, or to switch their attention to something else. Most PlwD have a very short attention span unless they obsess, in which case, they can't stop easily.
  • BDMF may also increase a person's ability to access abstract thinking, allowing them to move out of the here and now and to imagine new situations, and to be more creative. (This hasn't yet been tested on people.)
Finally, research has shown over and over that regular exercise decreases the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the future. That is, it won't stop the dementia that's present, but it may prevent dementia from showing up in the future...and it may slow down any that's present. It doesn't really matter what kind you do. Just exercise. Do whatever type you enjoy most. Do it with the PlwD. Do it with family. Do it with friends. Do it by yourself. Just do it!

Thanks to Wendy Suzki for this information.

* Acronyms:
BDMF: Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor
LBD: Lewy body dementia
PlwD: person living with dementia
PlwLBD: person living with LBD
DLB: dementia with Lewy bodies
PDD: Parkinson's disease with dementia
MCI: mild cognitive impairment
MCI-LB: the form of MCI that precedes LBD
BPSD: behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia

For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

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