One of the most exciting areas of exercise research is the investigation of cognitive function. What scientists have learned so far is that brain neurons, the special cells that help you think, move, perform all the bodily functions that keep you alive, and even help your memory, all increase in number after just a few days or weeks of regular activity. In a study in which researchers used an MRI machine to measure the amount of brain tissue in adults 55 years of age and older, they found results, consistent with other studies of aging and brain volume, showing there were substantial declines in brain tissue density as a function of age in areas of the brain responsible for thinking and memory, but importantly, the losses in these areas were substantially reduced as a function of cardiovascular fitness. In other words, the fittest individuals had the most brain tissue.
To stretch your quadriceps, start by standing behind a chair and grabbing it with your right hand. Bend your left leg behind you and grab your foot with your left hand, making sure to keep the thigh as close to perpendicular to the floor as possible. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds or long enough that you feel the stretch in front of the bent thigh. Release the foot and repeat on the other side. The National Institute on Aging Web site features other great stretches for the lower body, including the hamstring and calf muscles.
Exercise benefits much more than just the body — you can also improve your mental and emotional health by maintaining an active life. And if you have fun while you’re being active, chances are you’ll want to continue participating in that activity. Join a walking group so you can exercise and socialize at the same time, listen to music while you garden or work outside, call a friend and take a water aerobics class together, or join an organized club or sport. Stay active, stay involved, and you’ll stay healthy!
One of the important conclusions of the research is that it's important to select balance-training exercises that are specific to activities you are likely to do during the day. For instance, you might want to do balance exercises on one leg that mimic the act of walking if you are unsteady while you walk (when you walk, one leg is in the air). Tai chi is excellent for this because it involves slow, coordinated movements, and is particularly beneficial for balance since you lift one leg frequently while doing it. (See also the balance exercises at the end of this article.)
Pushups: This exercise works the same muscles as the chest press, but it also stretches them while training the core muscles to stabilize your torso and protect your lower back. Not many older people can do traditional pushups, with your hands and feet on the floor. Fortunately, you can make it easier without losing any benefits by elevating your hands on a bench or step, a kitchen counter, or even a wall. Check out the elevated pushup in the video below.