QIGONG RETURNS:  Just in time to help you recover from holiday stress, a new 6-week Qigong Class begins January 9 through February 13; the 45-minute class will start at 3:30PM. Qigong is similar to Tai Chi, but easier to learn.  Regina Wolgel will continue to teach this amazing class. Cost is $120 for the 6-weeks ($25 drop-in).


Physical exercise at any age is good for the body. But those who are later in their years may have a better reason to continue exercising than worrying about their figure. According to a study published in the latest issue of the journal Neurology, researchers have found that people over 70 who remain physically active have less brain shrinkage than those who do little or no exercise.

Experts from Edinburgh University say that people who exercise in their 70s may not only be halting their brains from shrinking, but also lowering the risk of dementia. And the good news is that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous, they noted–just going for a walk several times per week suffices.

“People in their seventies who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active,” said study author Alan J. Gow, PhD. “On the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans.”

Gow and his colleagues studied brain scans over a three-year period of 638 people born before 1936. The group gave the researchers details about their exercise habits, ranging from just completing necessary household chores to keeping fit with heavy exercise and competitive sports several times per week.

Previous research has shown that exercise helps reduce the risk of dementia and can slow its onset. But scientists are still unclear why. Exercise does increase blood flow to the brain, delivering doses of oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, which could be an important factor in keeping dementia away.

Researchers are also not clear on another aspect of the study: Are people’s brains shrinking because they are not exercising, or are people less inclined to exercise due to brain shrinkage?

One thing’s for sure, exercising is an easy thing to do, and it is beneficial not just for your body, but for your mind as well.

“This study links physical exercise to fewer signs of aging in the brain, suggesting that it may be a way of protecting our cognitive health,” noted Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “While we can’t say that exercise is the causal factor in this study, we do know that exercise in middle age can lower the risk of dementia later in life.”

“This research is exciting as it provides vital clues as to what impacts the way our brain ages and how we could tackle mental decline. If we can establish definitively that exercise provides protection against mental decline, it could open the door to exercise programs tailored to the needs of people as they age,” added Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK.

“We already know that exercise is important in reducing our risk of some illnesses that come with ageing, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. This research reemphasizes that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise, so whether it’s a brisk walk to the shops, gardening or competing in a fun run it is crucial that, those of us who can, get active as we grow older,” said Goodwin.

FLEXIBILITY DETERMINANTS (excerpted from IDEA Fitness Journal December 2012)

AGE – Flexibility has been shown to decrease up to 50% with age in some joint areas. From a base of 1,000 elderly men and women, a study showed that shoulder abduction decreased gradually and consistently with age and was about 25% less in these elderly subjects compared with norms for a younger population. Another study examined the changes in spinal mobility for 109 women aged 20–84 years. The results indicated that spinal mobility decreased with age by 20% for forward flexion, 33% for lateral flexion and 50% for extension.

This loss of flexibility may be due to gradual deterioration with age in the cell function within cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Also, that collagen, a main constituent of connective tissue, becomes dense (and stiffer) with aging. All the studies suggest that this loss of motion can be minimized with regular stretching and range of motion (ROM) exercise.

GENDER – It has been shown that due to minor differences in joint structures and connective-tissue anatomy, women have slightly greater ROM than men for most joint motions.  However, these researchers note that the effect of gender on ROM is much less than that of age.

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – For the most part, active individuals have greater flexibility in the joints they regularly use than in their inactive counterparts. Studies have confirmed with a population of 50 mature women (mean age 71 years) that those subjects who regularly did more walking had greater flexibility in the hip and spine than their less active counterparts. This data suggests a very meaningful application with fall prevention.

A comparison of elderly subjects (average age 77 years) with a history of falling to healthy non-fallers (average age 73 years) showed an association between hip tightness and more falls. The authors specifically recommend hip extension stretching as a necessary intervention for fall prevention. In a long-term study with 12 women aged 50–71 years, showed that regular exercise (15–30 minutes of stretching and 30–60 minutes of walking or water aerobics) 3 times per week for 5 years increased shoulder and hip ROM significantly (3%–22% in various joint actions). Exercise also helped the subjects perform activities of daily living more efficiently. Indeed, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that preventive and rehabilitative exercise programs should include activities that promote the maintenance of flexibility.