Former Steeler discusses activity, dementia

Former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Jon Kolb talks about the connections between physical activity and mental acuity on Wednesday during a program at Cambria Care Center outside Ebensburg.

EBENSBURG — Jon Kolb does not present himself as a scientist.

But as an offensive linemen for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first four Super Bowl championship teams and a long-time coach and exercise physiologist, Kolb has seen the connection between physical activity and mental acuity.

The key to activity that feeds the brain is challenge, Kolb told an audience of nearly 100 people Wednesday at Cambria Care Center near Ebensburg.

Kolb’s 90-minute presentation included many references to scientific studies that back up his advice, along with biblical references to inspire physical training.

He credited fellow 1970s Steeler J.T. Thomas with observing: “We don’t need more competition. We need more challenge.”

Kolb said he works with all ages to create physical challenges that feed the mind through a non-profit Adventures in Training with a Purpose.

The Christian organization focuses on “helping those in the most need improve their quality of life through purposeful physical activity,” its vision statement says.

Wednesday’s talk was centered on how movement can help delay or prevent dementia, with examples of how younger people can benefit.

“We looked at what happens when you move,” Kolb said after the program. “I use the word move a lot as opposed to exercise. Exercise doesn’t really have purpose, as movement does.”

Specifically, Kolb urges people to embrace sensory integration and complex movement, such as walking on stilts, skipping or riding a bicycle instead of a stationary bike.

“Ask yourself: What are the challenges I should embark on?” he said. “Our brains are not separate from our bodies.”

In working with children, Kolb said he noticed that some kids could not skip. Then he read a study on links between complex movement and learning.

“It turns out the kids that can’t skip are the same kids who cant spell ‘cat,’ “ he said. “Movement builds the framework for learning.”

Kolb cited studies that contradict the belief that the brain stops producing new neurons, or brain cells, after growth stops.

Movement, the studies say, create compounds in the blood that spur neuron production and help the damaged brains work around the weak areas.

“If you challenge yourself, your brain produces more neurons,” Kolb said.

The program was presented by Cambria Care Center for the general public, Marketing Director Michele Sherry said.

“It was for the community to get the word out about physical activity and dementia,” Sherry said.

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