Sonia Turnbow

Sonia Turnbow, M.S.N., RN, WHNP

Research gives a whole new meaning to the old saying “use it or lose it” for aging adults.

Functional decline in the older adult is due, at least in part, to physical inactivity, notes Sonia Turnbow, M.S.N., RN, WHNP, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) College of Nursing. During Older Americans Month, we are reminded of the link between physical activity and cognition in the older population.

“Studies have correlated physical activity through the lifespan with preservation of mental function,” Turnbow says.

One such study from the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, which included 9,344 women with a mean age of 71.6 years, found a positive relationship between cognitive status and physical activity at any age. The study shows lifelong habits related to physical exercise are effective in preventing dementia, but increasing physical activity at any age is helpful.

“Exercise is a natural part of life, although these days we have to consciously include it in our daily routine,” Turnbow says. “Biologically, it was part of survival in the form of hunting and gathering or raising livestock and growing food. Historically, it was built into daily life as regular hours of physical work or soldiering.”

It is important to challenge your brain to learn new and novel tasks, especially processes that you’ve never done before like square dancing, chess, tai chi, yoga or sculpture.

“It is never too late to take up physical activity in order to improve health and quality of life,” Turnbow adds. “Older adults can benefit from resolving to make small changes in one or two lifestyle behaviors that are known to enhance well-being.”

Each year since 1963, the month of May is proclaimed Older Americans Month nationwide. The Administration on Aging develops a theme for the observance, with this year’s being “Unleash the Power of Age.”

— Holly Shive

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