Walking the dog; the importance of exercise for teenagers and elderly

Posted by on Nov 14, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Walking the dog; the importance of exercise for teenagers and elderly

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My old dog reached the end of the line last year and I spent months without another mutt. It was difficult deciding what to get but I knew I needed a dog. Eventually a rescue dog found us and I clipped on his lead, slipped on my trainers and we were in business. Everyone knows exercise is good for them but actually getting down to it is another matter. However, with a dog sitting on the stairs waiting for a walk it is difficult to ignore so I’ve got a physical prompt to get me out of the house.

Exercise can help so many conditions, apart from the spare tyre. Researchers from Newcastle University are suggesting that exercise can help teenagers with depression. They report that 83% of the participants who took part in their exercise programme are no longer depressed. The author of the study has pointed out that there are few side effects to exercise, unlike drug therapies. It makes sense. Getting outside, maybe working with others and overcoming the physical challenge will all have a positive effect on how these teenagers feel.

Being a good distance from my teenage years I’m also interested in the positive effects to be gained from exercise as one gets older. Obviously the more mobile you are the better just for getting from A to B. It’s the effect on the brain that is even more interesting though.  As people get older memory  and brain function decline and this is thought to be because we lose the white matter (not the grey matter) which carries information between the different areas of the brain. This is because we lose capillaries and the knock on effect is that the capillaries carry nutrients and oxygen to our white matter; fewer capillaries, less oxygen, less brain communication, less memory. Exercise of course improves blood supply and so can improve brain health. Apparently it works in rats so it should also be relevant in humans.

As in teenagers, exercise can help combat depression as we age too. Whether it’s a session on the treadmill, a few lengths of the swimming pool or walking the dog, it can all be a tonic.  Exercise is also thought to stimulate academic achievement in school children. Canadian schools reported a couple of years ago that exercise improved Maths. The programme was called Sparking Life and involved students exercising vigorously for 20 minutes before going into their lesson. In 2007 experiments showed that those students who exercised before Maths class increased their problem solving ability by 20% and disciplinary problems decreased by 67%. The programme seems to have enjoyed a considerable success in Canada.  Unfortunately, many teachers consider such simple  measures ‘quirky’ and are not willing to experiment. Education is curriculum driven and so often the baby is thrown out with the bath water. The cry is that ‘we must press on with the syllabus’ regardless of whether the content is being absorbed or not. I fear the same might be true of care for the elderly. So much easier to keep them quiet than get them up, moving and socialising and using their brains.

Breakfast is cleared and once I’ve done an hour at my desk, my personal trainer, in the guise of a scruffy terrier is telling me it is time for me to improve my white matter, stimulate my grey matter, improve my cardio vascular system and try and inject a little tone into my leg muscles. It’s time for the morning walk. I may still not be up to a mathematical challenge on my return but I will have had time to organise my ‘to do’ list and have a Gerald Manley Hopkins or even a Thomas Hardy moment as I appreciate the glories of nature.

Robin Callister, Newcastle University, presented a paper on teenagers and depression  at Neuroscience  2013. Nov 2013

Roles for Exercise and diet in aging and depression ,Society for Neuroscience, Nov 2013.

Sparking Life programme www.sparkinglife.org