You may have heard the mantra that physical activity improves physical fitness. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. However, what you might not have realized is that with every step taken, every mile pedaled, or every lap swam around the pool, your cognitive fitness is also being enhanced.
“We know that physical exercise, and aerobic exercise in particular, is very beneficial for maintaining brain health, even in people who are at risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” says neuropsychologist Aaron Bonner-Jackson, PHD. “You can make a major difference in terms of how your body is functioning and, as a result, how your brain is functioning.”So, to preserve your cognitive health, your best bet is to work out your body and your mind through regular exercise.
Get moving for your brain
Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even
the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety.
Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
In a recent study, 454 older adults underwent yearly physical exams and cognitive tests for 20 years and agreed to donate their brains for research when they died. The participants were given accelerometers, which tracked their movement and physical activity around the clock.
Those who moved more scored better on the memory and thinking tests, and every increase in physical activity by one standard deviation was associated with a 31% lower risk of dementia, the researchers reported. The association between physical activity
and cognitive function remained consistent even after the study authors accounted for the participants’ brain pathology and whether or not they had dementia, according to the study.
In another recent study, 160 sedentary older people with mild cognitive impairment were assigned to take part in several options.
They could do aerobic exercise (three times a week for 45 minutes per session), eat a heart-healthy Dietary Approaches to Stop
Hypertension (DASH) diet, combine aerobic exercise with the DASH diet, or receive health education.
During the six-month study, those who followed the DASH diet alone did not improve on assessments of executive function (responsible for tasks like planning, problem-solving and multitasking), while the health-education group’s function worsened, according to the study.
However, those who exercised showed improvements in thinking and memory, and those who combined exercise and the DASH diet improved even more, the researchers reported.
These findings come at a critical time. Researchers say one new case of dementia is
detected every four seconds globally.
They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. In general, even in people who are at risk of development of Alzheimer’s or other dementias, exercise can stave off decline in some cases for many years and help people function better.
Put it to the test
So what should you do? Start exercising! We don’t know exactly which exercise is best.
Almost all of the research has looked at walking, including the latest study. “It’s likely
that other forms of aerobic exercise that get your heart pumping might yield similar
benefits,” says Dr. McGinnis.
How much exercise is required to improve memory? Aim for 150 mins of moderate-intensity activity such as walking, every week. If that seems daunting, start with a few minutes a day, and increase the amount you exercise by five or 10 minutes every week until you reach your goal.
If you don’t want to walk, consider other moderate-intensity exercises, such as swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash, or dancing. Don’t forget that household activities can count as well, such as intense floor mopping, raking leaves, or anything
that gets your heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat.
Don’t have the discipline to do it on your own? Try any or all of these ideas:
Join a class or work out with a friend who’ll hold you accountable.
Track your progress, which encourages you to reach a goal.
If you’re able, hire a personal trainer.
Whatever exercise and motivators you choose, commit to establishing exercise as a
habit, almost like taking a prescription medication. After all, they say that exercise is
medicine, and that can go on the top of anyone’s list of reasons to work out.
I certainly do hope this article was helpful to you, I would love to hear your comments and your questions, would love to answer those questions.