Exercise for Brain Health

Strengthening Mental Capacity through Exercise

It’s no secret that exercise conditions and tones your body, but now you may have another incentive to get moving: improved cognitive ability.

Research shows that exercise can reduce or prevent the effects of dementia or other cognitive conditions that may come with age.

It’s natural for normal brain functions to lessen with age. In fact, the National Institute on Aging says the areas of the brain that control memory, planning, learning, and other complex mental skills get smaller as people get older.

But exercise can help counter that.

Experts report that aerobic exercise increases oxygen flow and improves blood circulation. With less wear and tear on the neurons, the brain is better able to preserve cognitive abilities and remain healthy.

Case in point: Mayo Clinic researchers studied more than 1,300 elderly adults free of dementia. They determined that approximately 200 of the individuals had mild cognitive impairment and the remaining participants had normal cognitive function.

The difference? The results showed that those who had engaged in moderate exercise during their 40s and 50s were less apt to show signed of cognitive impairment.

In another study, researchers at the Dana Foundation found that physical activity helps promote the development of new neuro-pathways in the brain in older test animals.

It also helped to reduce the amount of plaque buildup typically associated with certain types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.


Movement and mood

In addition to improved cognition, exercise is tied to the brain in another way: mood.

Research shows a definite connection between movement and mood. The word ‘emotion’ is six-sevenths ‘motion.’ The same structure of the brain that is responsible for motion is also responsible for mood.  It’s easy to determine how someone is feeling simply by how they’re moving—if someone is downcast, they’re often moving slowly and show little expression, for example, whereas someone who is excited may be moving animatedly or jumping up and down.


Types of brain exercise

The types of exercise that are good for the brain are ones that increase the heart rate as well as the body’s need for oxygen. Examples include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Aerobics
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Weight training
  • Outdoor chores like shoveling or raking

The more complex the activity or movement, the more stimulation the brain experiences.

For example, instead of walking along a path, try hiking where your brain needs to manage a different terrain and possible obstacles in the path. Skiing is another great example because it requires balance and agility as you maneuver angles and slopes. And with dancing, you must learn new steps or sequences, all in time to the music.


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