Published: Thu, 03/19/2020 - 17:35

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNLV (OLLI at UNLV) has built its reputation on keeping members’ minds nimble through thought-provoking courses and discussions. The educational benefits of OLLI are so well known that people may be surprised to see several physical activity courses on the weekly schedule. Tai Chi, dance, and chair exercise courses have all developed a following among OLLI members.
On a recent visit to the Paradise campus, the gymnasium was flowing with energy from a class full of Tai Chi students. Instructor Joyce Asada took participants through their forms with joy, energy, and encouragement, reminding them, “We’re working both sides of your brain as well as your body.” Asada kept the focus on getting the body moving; the movements don’t have to be done perfectly in order to achieve health benefits and improve concentration.
What is the rationale for including exercise courses into OLLI? There is growing scientific evidence that regular exercise not only improves our physical well-being as we age—including cardiovascualar health, range of motion, stress reduction, and diabetes prevention—it’s also great for our brains!
Sharon Jalene, a Kinesiology faculty member at UNLV, keeps abreast of current research on the connections between physical activity, wellness, and brain health. This area is getting widespread attention as Baby Boomers transition into their retirement years. In particular, researchers are finding a direct link between exercise habits and the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Jalene took time recently to compile and summarize some of the latest data on the close correlation between exercise, memory, and health.
Exercise, the Best Medicine
By Sharon Jalene,
            A 2014 study supported by the American Academy of Neurology indicates Alzheimer’s disease is the third leading cause of death in the United States [1]. According to these scientists, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) incorrectly ranks Alzheimer’s disease as the sixth leading cause of early mortality, reporting 84,000 deaths during 2010[2]. The current study concluded that the actual death toll in 2010 was over 503,000, closely following cardiovascular disease and cancer. Alzheimer’s disease rose 68% between 2000-2010 and is predicted by the CDC to triple during the next 30 years. If the current information is correct, the potential number of people affected defies comprehension. Research for a cure continues while the nation’s baby boomer generation ages with trepidation. There is good news, however, regarding prevention through behavior modifications. One of most powerful prescriptions for prevention is based on the sound wisdom of Hippocrates, who said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.”
            During the past decade the government, universities, and other agencies have examined why physical activity is important and how much is ideal. The findings strongly indicate that an active lifestyle improves cognitive health [3,4].  Older adults who are active are statistically less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a host of other chronic and disabling diseases and conditions [5].  An active lifestyle regulates blood glucose, which may be a critical factor in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s - now referred to as Diabetes III [6].  
            Healthy individuals should engage in 150 minutes of moderate activity (brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging, swimming, etc.) each week to provide a general level of wellness [7].  For stable balance, bone, and muscle health, resistance training twice a week is highly beneficial for older adults. Additionally, behavior changes like standing instead of sitting, walking instead of driving, and using stairs instead of the elevator contribute to multiple health benefits and may add quality years during the latter decades. Older adults receive these benefits regardless of previous training levels [8].
            While science continues to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, we should all do our part and keep moving.  Prevention may be the best medicine of all.
OLLI members already actively participating in Tai Chi, dance, or other fitness course have felt the brain-boosting power of exercise for themselves. The Tai Chi participants were all heading straight from exercising on to another class. With their bodies and brains both alert, they were ready for some serious learning.
Joyce Asada has been practicing Tai Chi for over 10 years. She began leading the course for OLLI two years ago. She offers both beginning and intermediate levels. Sharon Jalene is a visiting lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at UNLV. She is 2014 winner of a CSUN Faculty Award. Jalene will teach KNI-250, Social Psychology of Physical Activity, during Summer Term.
[1] James, B.D., Leurgans, S.E., Hebert, L.E., Scherr, P.A., Yaffe, K., & Bennett, D.A. (2014). Contribution of Alzheimer’s disease to mortality in the United States. American Academy of Neurology, 82, 1045-1050.
[2]  Alzheimer's facts and figures. (2014).  Retrieved April 4, 2014, from,
[3] Weuve, J., Kang, J. H., Manson, J. E., Breteler, M. M. B., Ware, J. H., Grodstein, F. (2004). Physical activity, including walking, and cognitive function in older woman. Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(12), 1454-1461.
[4] Lautenschlager, N. T., Cox, K. L., Flicker, L., Foster, J. K., van Bockxmeer, F. M., Xiao, J., Greenop, K. R., Almeida, O. P. (2008). Effect of physical activity on cognitive function in older adults at risk for Alzheimer's disease. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(9), 1027-1037.
[5] Gremeaux, V., Gayda, M., Lepers, R., Sosner, P., Juneau, M., Nigam, A. (2012). Exercise and longevity. Maturitas, 73, 312-317.
[6] Baker, L. D., Frank, L. L., Foster-Schubert, K., Green, P. S., Wilkinson, C., W., McTiernan, A., Cholerton, B. A., Plymate, S. R., Fishel, M. A., Watson, G. S., Duncan, G. E., Mehta, P. D. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves cognition for older adults with glucose intolerance, a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 22, 566-579.
[7]  Healthy (2014). Retrieved, April 7, 2014, from
[8] Harber, M. P., Konopa, A. R., Undem, M. K., Hinkley, J. M., Minchev, K., Kaminsky, L. A., Trappe, T., A., Trappe, S. (2012). Aerobic exercise training induces skeletal muscle hypertrophy and age-dependent adaptations in myofiber function in young and older men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 113, 1495-1504.