I have been teaching some clients in my group fitness classes for 18 years.  If they started with me when they were 50 years old ( when they were eligible to be in the seniors exercise program) that means that they are 68 currently.  Some clients began classes with me when they retired, so a few of them are now in their mid 80’s.

Thankfully the changes I have seen in their bodies over this time frame have been mainly positive.  I like to tell my students that they have frozen time, that they look exactly the same as they did when they started.  I really mean this.  For the most part, their bodies move and look the same.

What I have noticed is a slight decline in cognitive functioning but out of a approximately a hundred and twenty students, I have only a handful of clients that I am worried about. I am happy to say that these few students have a wonderful circle of friends that go with them to the gym and keep them going in the right direction, literally. 

Mainly I see changes in speed.  Students who used to be able to process verbal cues quite rapidly, now take a bit more time.  This is normal aging. Forgetting our lefts from our rights etc. 

“In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, including dementia-14.9 percent of Canadians 65 and older. By 2031, this figure will increase to 1.4 million.” Canfitpro Magazine- March/April 2013. Exercise and Dementia by Jennifer Salter.

In her article, Jennifer goes on to say, ” starting at about at 40, we lose on average five percent of our overall brain volume per decade, up until age 70, when a variety of different conditions can accelerate the process. Exercise is one of the few ways to counter the process of aging because is slows down the natural decline of the stress threshold. It is actually good for cells to periodically be subjected to mild stress-this improves their ability to cope with more severe stress. In addition, exercise sparks connections and growth among the cellular network of the brain by increasing the blood volume, regulating fuel, and encouraging neuronal activity and  neurogenesis (development of new nerve cells). Regular exercise also increases dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is the core of the reward and motivation systems- a lack of which causes irritability, depression, and apathy among many older adults.”

I am not a doctor but I am on the ground working with people as they age and I have no doubt in my mind that exercise is the key to staying healthy mentally.  I believe that there is real benefit in group exercise classes where you have to actually follow a teacher.  It is easy to go for a walk or do the same thing that you do all of the time.  The benefits happen when you practice using your brain to complete a new set of challenges. Having to move left as a group. Having to raise your left arm one way and your right another. Having to remember simple choreography.  All of this keeps you young. I have seen it. I live this everyday with my amazing students.

Try a new class today.  Encourage some cell growth in your brains.  Do something different to keep your listening, and mobility skills sharp .

See you in class everyone!