The New Workout

Dozens of Boomers in the Westcott Lakes community in Tallahassee, Fla., are getting their workouts without ever breaking a sweat, thanks to the life fulfilling community’s regular “Brainerciz” classes.

It’s only one example of a workout trend more and more Boomers are investing their time and money in – maintaining their brain health.

Brain stimulation is vital to every aspect of our daily lives, from thinking to remembering to feeling to working. Even as debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia claimed the minds of more and more once vibrant seniors, it was often ignored by health and fitness gurus for focus on more traditional areas of health, such as physical exercise and diet (which are both important components of overall health maintenance).

But thanks to thousands of Boomers striving to stay physically and mentally sharp as they begin to hit their 60s, increased attention to brain health has swept the nation.

Case in point – the U.S. market for home computer software aimed at brain fitness reached $225 million in revenues in 2007, according to a SharpBrains report. That was an increase of $125 million from 2005.

The research and advisory firm estimates the figure will reach $2 billion by 2015.

“There does seem to be an increased interest among aging ‘baby boomers’ and others in ways to maintain mental clarity,” said Dr. Mark Williams, head of geriatric medicine at the University of Virginia Health System.

“Some of the reasons may be the aging of the population, the increased prevalence of memory difficulty with aging – although importantly aging 7 does not cause memory loss – and the proactive lifestyle of the boomer generation.”

While neuroscience is a very active field, Williams, author of “The American Geriatrics Society’s Complete Guide to Health and Aging,” said much additional information is needed to determine how best to keep aging brains active.

While there’s an increased interest in brain-healthy therapies that keep aging minds quick, medical experts are fast to point out that many brain-fitness programs cannot offer specific results.

It can’t cure Alzheimer’s and consumers should use common sense, read a variety of sources and be cautious of exaggerated claims and “miracle cures” when seeking out a brain workout program.

Still, a good rule of thumb for keeping your brain sharp is the advice the Human Resources person at work would always give you about your vacation time. Use it or lose it.

“(It’s) just as applicable to keeping mental processes sharp as for any other system,” Williams said. “Physical and mental exercises seems important as does varying the daily routine. Try new things, experience new experiences, break your daily routine periodically.”

The Westcott Lakes community is full of Boomers who don’t want to wind down their lives sitting in the rocking chairs out on their front porches, said Christopher Mulrooney, a regional vice president of Praxeis, which develops “life fulfilling communities” – a phrase the company has trademarked.

Mulrooney is also CEO of the company’s Westcott Lakes at SouthWood, which expects to break ground for its 270-unit Life Fulfilling Community early next year (though several of the community’s future residents already live minutes from their future homes).

The project, within six miles of and in partnership with Florida State University, is akin to another prominent Praxeis community, Oak Hammock, a $132 million development at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Like its predecessor, Westcott Lakes at SouthWoods is for people 62 and better that activities that will keep them mentally fit in addition to other luxuries such as on-site physical fitness clubs, tennis courts and socializing venues within a gated, country-club-style setting.

“It’s central to the overall philosophy of wellness that we have,” Mulrooney said. “For us to feel like we’re making a contribution to our residents’ lives, we want to make sure we’re offering them some cutting-edge programs.”

The community’s self-paced Brainerciz classes utilize the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, a breakthrough computer-based technology designed by scientists to improve memory and sharpen thinking.

brain fitness program in August and Mulrooney said the response has been tremendous. Residents are already planning a “graduation” for completing the first level of the program and several have commented that they’ve noticed their memory and concentration improve since beginning the classes.

“They’re excited about continuing their learning,” he said. “(Boomers) believe in lifelong learning and want to prolong their cognitive functioning for as long as possible.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips to keep your brain sharp and active.

• Head First – Good health starts with your brain so don’t take it for granted. It’s one of the most important body organs and it needs care and maintenance.
• Take Brain Health to Heart – Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.
• Your Numbers Count – Keep your body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels within recommended ranges.
• Feed Your Brain – Eat a low-fat, low cholesterol diet that features dark-skinned vegetables and fruits; foods rich in antioxidants; vitamins E, C and B-12; folate and omega-3 fatty acids.
• Work Your Body – Physical exercise keeps the blood flowing and encourages new brain cells. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous activity. Do what you can – walking 30 minutes a day – to keep both body and mind active.
• Jog Your Mind – Keeping your brain active and engaged increases its vitality and builds reserves of brain cells and connections. Read, write, play games, do crossword puzzles.
• Connect with Others – Leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social elements are most likely to prevent dementia. Be social, converse, volunteer, join.
• Heads Up! Protect your Brain – Take precautions against injuries. Use your car seat belts, unclutter your house to avoid falls and wear a helmet when cycling.
• Use Your Head – Avoid unhealthy habits. Do not smoke, drink excessive alcohol or use street drugs.

Think ahead – Start Today! – You can do something today to protect your tomorrow.