It’s easy to see and feel how your body benefits from regular exercise – a healthy weight, toned muscles, increased energy. What is not as easy to see – although just as real – are the ways regular exercise benefits your brain health.
Why is exercise vital to your brain?
Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to enlarge the part of the brain involved with verbal memory and learning. It also reduces inflammation and stimulates chemicals that affect the health and growth of cells and blood vessels in the brain. Exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, leading to better moods and improved sleep, which are also pillars for brain health. Can you say magic wonder drug?
A recent small study has even suggested that performing physical activity, such as riding a stationary bike, while learning something new, like a foreign language, yields better results. The study of 40 undergraduate students who spoke Chinese as a first language looked at how riding a bike while being taught English vocabulary words affected the participants’ learning process. The physical activity while learning something new helped both in the short-term ability to learn and the long-term ability to retain the information.
What are the best types of exercise for brain health?
When you do aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio,” your heart rate and your breathing increase. Older adults who are in generally good health should get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moderate intensity means you can talk but not sing while exercising.
Combining aerobic activities with strength, flexibility and balance training makes for the optimal brain health exercise routine.
Meet a Brain Health Champion
“Doing it Right” Spotlight : Exercise
Age: 66 years old.
BHI Score: 82
Motto: “Forever 30” written on all her birthday cakes
Her key to keeping sharp?
Group Exercise and Weight Training
When Ginney turned 50 she noticed she was slowly gaining extra pounds. She started walking for exercise but felt she needed more. A friend suggested she try one of the free exercise classes that were offered at the hospital where she volunteered. Her self-proclaimed addiction to exercise started after that one Zumba class. Now, she participates in group exercise classes at least 5 times a week. She also, with the initial help of a fitness trainer, hired to alleviate concerns about her back, lifts weights 2-3 times a week. She says she has never felt better. Motivated by the rewards of group exercise like losing weight, toned muscles and friendship, Ginney inspires her peers and younger people to exercise – with hopes they can “keep up”.
Stay inspired! Take that first step to exercise. You too, like Ginney, can become a brain health champion.
Are you having a tough time getting started? Keep in mind your activity doesn’t always have to be part of a formal workout at the gym to count. Make physical activity (aerobic, strength and stretch) part of your daily housekeeping routine. Everyday activities like mowing the lawn, washing your car, or walking to the store all are beneficial if you are doing them at a moderate intensity and for at least 10 minutes at a time. Upbeat music and an exercise companion, either human or dog, can add motivation and more fun.
For more tips on exercising for a healthy brain, visit healthybrains.org/pillar-physical. Experiencing mild memory loss and/or diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment and do not regularly exercise? Learn about the EXERT Study at healthybrains.org/clinical-trials.