Exercise, It’s Good for the Brain

You know it’s good for stress relief.  You can’t do without it for muscle tone.  And as a weight loss “tool,” exercise works when we are determined to trim down unwanted body fat.  But best yet, for those of us over fifty, exercise might be the fountain of youth to keeping our brains in shape.

A new study conducted by researchers at the Center for Brain Health, The University of Texas, Dallas, in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that engaging in a physical exercise regimen helps healthy aging adults improve their memory, brain health and physical fitness. This finding is significant considering that among adults 50 and older, “staying mentally sharp” outranks social security and physical health as the top priority and concern in the United States.

“Science has shown that aging decreases mental efficiency and memory decline is the number one cognitive complaint of older adults,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair and lead author of the paper. “This research shows the tremendous benefit of aerobic exercise on a person’s memory and demonstrates that aerobic exercise can reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of aging.”

How much exercise is enough to keep the brain in top shape?  There hasn’t been enough scientific research on that yet, but it seems moderately intense exercises five days a week may be the best brain workout.  “We need people to know that right now we don’t have any medications where, if you take this you’ll have good brain health,” said Dr. Po-Heng Tsai, a neurologist for Cleveland Clinic, in Florida. “It’s important to get the message out there that people need to be active or physically fit because it’s not only good for the body but for the mind.”

How to start?  If you already aren’t involved in a daily fitness program, consider sneaky ways to add exercise to your day.  For instance, that means, of course, parking your car far from the store—leave the close spots for those with small kids.  You can also do things like taking the stairs, walking at lunch, mowing your lawn, or sweeping the patio vigorously work, too.

You may not be fond or have the fitness level to do a five-mile run or attend sweaty workout classes at the gym yet if you’re taking your health seriously for your body and your brain, it’s imperative that you participate in some form of activity.  The benefits?  Your muscles and bones will stay stronger, you’ll probably keep your weight in a healthy range, and you’ll have a more positive outlook on life.  Oh, yes, you will be able to eat more than our sedentary counterparts.  Women and men who participate in fitness have a lower incidence of depression, which is too common in older adults.

Swimming, pool exercise and walking are the most gentle on the body and extremely effective to keeping one’s health high. Gardening, working outdoors, washing the car and doing housework are all ways to stay active.  You need not take up tackle football.  And right now or as soon as you can, go online and book a spa weekend.

Eat for your body and your brain.  Actually, eat as if your life depends on it.  It really could.  Choose foods that nourish your body.  There’s a saying in the fitness/health industry of: “If it’s white, don’t take a bite.”  That means if you’re eating white bread, products made with white flower or ingesting white sugars, you could be hurting not just your body, but your brain.

Exercise your brain with education.  Never, ever stop learning or challenging yourself, whether you’re taking college classes, workshops at the rec center, an online class or learning at home.  A friend who graduated from college with an engineering degree a decade ago, but every semester she’s back there and taking another class about which she has little knowledge.  This semester she’s taking a water-color painting course.  I admire that.  Do you remember when one retired one really retired from life?  That kind of withdrawal from our social and career circles was, I believe, deadly.  In order to keep your brain from atrophy, consider a new career or how you can volunteer with a group that helps others while moving your body and your brain cells.

For more information on exercise and brain health, check this article from the New York Times Magazine, “How Exercise Could lead to a Better Brain,” by Gretchen Reynolds (www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

Here’s to exercise.  Good for your body and great for your brain as you stay fit for life.

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