Gino Bettini raises his arms and stretches to the music. Behind him, 35 other adults are seated in chairs in a strip-shopping-center church — waving their arms in unison.
A retired chef, 77-year-old Bettini is here, in a tiny storefront in Eatonville, learning how to beef up his brain — and reduce his chance of getting Alzheimer's disease.
"The exercise is very good for you," said Bettini. "And doesn't everyone worry about their brain health?"
Apparently so. In the first week of the Boost Your Brain camp, 50 people crammed into the Eatonville church. The 8-week-long brain camp is organized by the Orlando Health Memory Disorder Center, the town of Eatonville and Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and funded by a grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation.
Designed for people 50 or older, the brain "camp" features lectures by neurologists, along with healthy-food cooking demonstrations, brain and memory games and exercise.
The idea, said Dr. Ira Goodman, director of the Memory Disorder Center, is to teach Central Floridians the tricks that researchers think can stave off the onset of Alzheimer's disease. That means starting as early as possible.
"Alzheimer's disease does not start overnight. It's a process that occurs over decades," said Goodman, a neuropsychologist. "Once you have it clinically, then we have some limited treatment but we don't have a cure. So our job now is to delay the onset as best we can."
To do that, the Boost Your Brain camps teach the benefits of exercise — which research shows can delay memory impairment. Participants also learn about the importance of socialization, mental exercise and spirituality — all of which appear to keep the brain from deteriorating.
In addition, participants learn about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables — particularly those high in polyphenols, which researchers think may be more important than antioxidants in fighting Alzheimer's disease.
"You can't fight aging, but there are strategies you can use to minimize your risk of Alzheimer's," Goodman said. "That's why boost-the-brain seminars are becoming very popular."
Although each of the eight sessions features a short lecture, the class is built around exercise — all of it done while sitting down. "This will strengthen your quads," certified trainer Mandy Nice tells the class while they're doing leg lifts. "That's the muscle over your knee that's responsible for getting you up stairs and in and out of cars."
While class members tap their feet, roll their shoulders and pretend to row a boat, volunteers pull aside individuals to measure their fitness levels. Using simple tests — such as the number of arm raises a person can do while holding a two-, three- or five-pound weight — they will test their cardio strength, muscle strength, flexibility and balance.
Although participants will likely see improvement in muscle strength, cardiovascular strength and flexibility during the eight-week course, most quickly discover that their balance improves within a few weeks of starting to exercise, said volunteer Charlyne Cross.
"In 30 days, they'll see a big difference," Cross said. "Balance is important because it reduces their chance of falling."
Evelyn Eads first discovered the benefits of exercise two years ago, when she stumbled onto a chair exercise class that Nice was conducting in Winter Park. Now, at 78, Eads is a testament to the power of chair aerobics.
"I feel like a new person," said Eads. "And I get around so much better."
Linda Shrieves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5433.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun