Staying Active & the Brain

Maintaining an active mind by
doing puzzles, reading and taking part in other meaningful cognitive activities
can improve memory and protect the brain from future damage. But as you age,
it’s essential to keep up your physical activity to reduce your risk of certain
illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. Exercise is just as important
for your brain as it is for your body. Staying physically active improves brain
health in the following ways.

Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease that currently has no cure. Pharmaceutical and
non-drug treatments can reduce the severity of the symptoms. Physical activity
may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in high-risk individuals.

In one
study
, researchers looked at the effects of lifestyle changes
such as regular exercise, a healthy diet and social support on people who were
at a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. They found that participants
who made these positive changes had better brain health after two years than
those who followed their normal health care regimens.

Improves Learning and Memory

In a review
of 39 studies
, researchers found that working out for 45 to
60 minutes at a moderate intensity improved cognitive function in people over
50. This benefit occurred regardless of individuals’ cognitive status.
Resistance training is associated with improvements in learning and memory.

Exercise changes the function and structure of the brain. It increases the size
of the brain in the regions that are responsible for remembering information.
Experts believe that this happens because exercise increases blood flow. The
brain has an extensive network of blood vessels and relies on oxygen for
nourishment.

Enhancing
your circulation
by exercising can help protect brain cells and
build new ones. Exercise also encourages the brain to maintain the connections
that it already uses to send messages throughout the nervous system.

Lowers the Risk of Depression

A 2018
study
found that people with depression and anxiety who
performed resistance training exercises twice a week saw an improvement in
their symptoms. Aerobic exercise can also lift your mood.

When you exercise, your body releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes
you feel good. The spike in dopamine can stave off depression and other mood
disorders.

Dopamine is also responsible for regulating cognitive function. It’s especially
important for people with Parkinson’s
Disease
, who experience deterioration in the cells that produce
dopamine in a specific region of the brain.

Reduces Stress

You may have heard that exercise is helpful for soothing stress. Reducing
stress is essential for brain health. High levels of stress are
associated with inflammation, which has been implicated for its involvement in
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Inflammation can also speed up the aging
process.

Moreover, stress damages brain cells in the hippocampus. Exercise can combat
this by reducing levels of stress hormones and building the hippocampus back
up.

Memory loss can surface in middle age in people who experience a great deal of
stress. If you already forget your keys regularly or can’t remember what you’re
shopping for, you might want to try finding healthy ways to cope with stress.
Exercise is one method of doing this.

The Best Types of Exercise for
Brain Health

Endurance exercise is ideal for pumping blood to the brain. Aerobic workouts
have also been found to increase
the size
of the part of the brain that’s linked with verbal memory
and learning. Other types of exercise do not seem to lead to growth in this
area.

Aging adults may not have the energy, coordination or mobility to do the same
type of aerobic exercise that they did when they were younger. Still, there are
several ways to safely improve endurance, including:
• Walking inside of a climate-controlled mall
• Joining a water aerobics class
• Dancing
• Bowling
• Using a recumbent bike

Strength
training
can also protect your brain. Lifting weights creates more
gray matter
in areas of the brain that are influenced by
Alzheimer’s disease. People who don’t do resistance training may experience
shrinkage in the same brain regions.

If you’re new to strength training, you might want to work with someone who can
help you with your form so that you avoid injury. You can use your body,
weights or resistance bands to challenge your muscles. Begin gradually, warming
up before you exercise. Try not to exercise the same muscle groups on consecutive
days.

Tai
Chi

is a low-impact activity that has a high impact on brain health. Doing Tai Chi
for one hour twice a week is enough to boost levels of brain chemicals that
promote the creation of new brain cells. Plus, Tai Chi is easy on the joints,
improves balance and flexibility and helps reduce stress.

Although everyone experiences cognitive decline as they age, they can slow down
the deterioration with physical exercise. Working out nourishes existing brain
cells and helps grow new ones. Exercise may not completely reverse a genetic
disposition to certain diseases that affect cognition. However, it can delay
the onset of dementia for up to 15
years
.

If you already exercise regularly, keeping up your routine will help you stay
mobile and active as you continue to age. If you don’t have a workout routine,
ask your health care provider about starting one. Focusing on balance,
flexibility, strength and endurance will contribute to your well-being better
than a single type of exercise. Find some activities that you love and stick
with them for lasting benefits to your body and brain.

Sticking with an exercise
program, as well as a healthy diet, will lower the risk of developing a host of
illnesses related to the brain. Speaking with a nutritionist and working with a
personal trainer are great ways to get the ball rolling. Enjoying the benefits
of a healthy brain will require you to take an active role in your healthcare
and a commitment to making brain-healthy decisions. Incorporating the right
habits into your life will give your brain health a powerful boost while
ensuring your future is as worry-free as possible. Start eating healthy and
exercising today for a brighter tomorrow!

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