Boosting Brain Health with Exercise
The benefits of exercise reach far beyond building muscle strength. Exercise protects against age-related cognitive decline. After the age of 60, normal physiologic changes can lead to a gradual decline in processing speed, memory, and executive function. Regular exercise can slow these changes and significantly reduce dementia risk.
Cognitive changes with aging are complex and diverse. Studies are ongoing to further define the link between exercise and brain health. What we do know is that exercise is beneficial regardless of age or fitness level, and that regular exercise is key. The standard recommendation is 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise, most days of the week. If that seems a daunting goal, break that time into smaller increments. A 10-15 minute walk, 2-3 times per day may be more achievable. If you need to, start even smaller and work your way up by a few minutes each week until you reach your goal. A combination of aerobic activities, strength-training, and mind-body exercise can be used to meet these recommendations.
Not only can exercise counteract cognitive decline, but exercise also has the potential to boost cognitive performance. A systematic review of the literature indicates improved cognitive performance among older adults who participated in >52 hours of exercise. Processing speed/attention, executive function, and global cognition all improved with exercise participation. It’s never too late to get started. Work toward that 52 hour goal!
There is no magic pill to combat aging, but exercise is likely the best protector for both mind and body. Regular physical activity can keep your mind sharp and may even give you an additional cognitive boost. To add an extra mind-body challenge to your daily exercise, try out some of the suggestions below.
Learn a new skill. Thinking about trying that zumba dance class? Go for it! You will challenge your mind and your body as you learn a new routine.
Change it up. Do you always walk the same route in your neighborhood? Change it up! Not only will the fresh scenery ignite your senses, but you also might encounter some new terrain that keeps you on your toes.
Find your inner connection. Add tai chi or yoga to your routine for a great combination of mental focus, breath, and movement. Both forms of exercise help to improve balance, strength, flexibility, and mental health.
Multi-task. Take a walk with a friend. Having a conversation while walking is a divided attention task that will challenge your brain and your body. Walking with a buddy also helps with motivation and accountability, win-win!
Get outside. Time spent in outdoor environments increases cognitive function, reduces stress, and improves mood. Take your exercise outside to reap the benefits.
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Interested in diving deeper into the scientific literature?
Click here to read more about the systematic review referenced above.