May 26, 2020

Sydney Ruston

Using exercise to help others

“Helping people feel better and improve their quality of life is what makes my job so rewarding,” says Sydney Ruston, BKin’20, an exercise trainer with the University of Calgary’s Brain in Motion II study. “There’s nothing like hearing a study participant say, ‘I can walk up the stairs without any knee pain.’ Or, ‘I’m less tired when I play with my grandchildren.’ To hear comments like these and know that the benefits also stretch beyond having less pain or more energy is so gratifying.”

Brain in Motion II is building on phase one of the study, which was published in the May 13 online issue of Neurology. The study suggests older adults can perform certain thinking and memory tests at the same level as someone four to six years younger after just six months of aerobic exercise. Memory and mental sharpness usually decline as we age, but the research team has associated improvements in these areas with increased blood flow to the brain, which is a result of exercise.

The team designs new, standardized exercise routines each month that get progressively harder throughout the six-month period. Sydney supervises stretch and tone sessions three days a week. In addition, there is an aerobic group which completes 20 to 40 minutes of structured aerobic exercise four times a week, progressing in intensity throughout the six-months.

“The exercises focus on balance and functional movement — the way we move in everyday life,” explains Sydney. “The age range of participates is 50 to 80 years old so the routines are designed to be easily modified based on fitness level and any mobility restrictions participants may have. We typically hold the sessions in person, but have had to move our classes online because of COVID-19.”

“Even though gyms are closed, any type of exercise that makes it difficult to sing or talk while you’re doing it — such as fast-paced walking, jogging or dancing — is beneficial,” adds Sydney. “As we’ve seen through our study, it’s never too late to see the physical and brain benefits from regular exercise.”

The Brain in Motion II study is currently looking for adults between the ages of 50 and 80 who are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. For more information on the study or participation, please visit ucalgary.ca/poulin or email bimstudy@ucalgary.ca.