[Written by Peter Nielsen].
Beginning a new fitness program comes with great benefits at any age. An inspiring example of this Olga Kotella. She worked as a teacher, raised her family and retired at age 65 … and what an amazing retirement! At the age of 77 she began training in track and field and went on to earn 37 world records and win 750 gold medals in nonagenarian track-and-field events around the world by the time she turned 95! Her story is inspiring, and that is only part of her legacy.
In 2012, when Ms. Kotella was 93, she traveled to the University of Illinois from her home in Vancouver to take part in a study that compared her brain to the brains of 58 active women between the ages of 60 and 78. Scientists at the university were especially interested in her because she had started her fitness training at an advanced age and they felt she could shed light on the effects of exercise on seniors. For the study, participants underwent MRI brain scans, cognitive tests, and a treadmill fitness examination. The study was published in the journal Neurocases.
Her brain appeared younger than her age. The white matter of her brain — cells that help transmit messages from one part of the brain to another — had fewer age-related abnormalities than is usually seen in people of comparable age. Her hippocampus, which is involved in memory, was larger than that of the other participants closest to her age. In other words, her brain was younger than her age.
At that point, the question for the scientists became more focused … did becoming an athlete late in life improve her brain’s health or did a healthy brain help her to become a celebrated athlete? Trying to find an answer, the scientists then conducted another study, published last month in PLOS One. Researchers again scanned the brains of older men and women between the ages of 60 and 80, tracking the levels of oxygen delivered to cells as a method of determining brain activity. They also measured the participants’ aerobic capacity and closely monitored the amount and intensity of their activity for a week. In this case, none of the participants were athletes.
The result? The most physically active elderly participants, had healthier patterns of brain activity than the less active participants — particularly in improved memory , cognition and more robust connections between different brain areas.
More studies are underway to see if a fitness regimen can actually reverse the effects of aging, but the overwhelming improvements to daily life –at any age– are undeniable.
Be inspired! Get moving! There’s so much at stake!
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[Written by Peter Nielsen].