Our bodies don’t come with lifetime guaranties, and we all know exercising can help us in the fight against time – it has been well documented and is almost common knowledge. Whether you want to lose weight, preserve muscle strength, prevent heart disease, diabetes, or just want to look better, regular exercise is your friend.
What if the benefits are not just physical? What if workouts could actually help protect your memory and thinking skills? Have you ever heard the expression “Mens sana in corpore sano” (latin for “a healthy mind in a healthy body”)?
It seems that people have known for a long time that there is a direct connection between mental and physical health, they just didn’t always have the proper “tools” to prove it.
In recent years, substantial progress has been made in understanding the correlation between regular workouts and cognitive functioning. In 2009, a study showed that both moderate and high-intensity exercise are related to increased performance in working memory, cognitive flexibility, and speed of information processing. Another study conducted in 2017 also showed improved performance on a complex memory tax for the test group that had completed six weeks of exercise training. But how does this happen, neurologically speaking?
Exercising bulks up your brain as well as your body.
This means that exercise increases proteins BDNF and IGF-1, both of which are important for the nervous system function and health. These chemicals affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, its health, and even the creation of new brain cells.
Would you start working out if you knew that it could protect your brain from different conditions like depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, or dementia?
Of course, exercising doesn’t cure such neurodegenerative conditions, but it can help to fend off the effects of such conditions.
Exercise is a simple and effective means of slowing down or staving off memory loss and cognitive decline for elder people, and it’s even more efficient if you’re young. It will help you focus and maintain your attention for longer than usual. Not to mention that it also improves mood, increases sleep, and reduces stress, which can all contribute to cognitive impairment.
However, it seems that older adults often have difficulty initiating and adhering to exercise programs due to socioeconomic disadvantage or other neighborhood factors.
What you need to understand is that exercising is free. You don’t need a membership to a fancy gym and you don’t have to be discouraged by the fact that the closest one is three miles away. Then you’re going to find yourself exercising even while waiting in line at the supermarket.
Try this experiment yourself.
If you’re already into fitness or other sports, you probably don’t need further proof. But if not, try an aerobic session or simply put on your favorite playlist at home and start moving.
You’ll notice that exercise has immediate effect on your brain. The release of dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline will help increase your mood right after that workout.
It feels great, but you need to go after the long-lasting effects, right? After all, you do want to remember where all your stuff is, and it would be nice to recognize your relatives when you’re 75.
Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki suggests that you need to exercise three to four times a week, for at least 30 minutes per session. Do something that will get your heart rate up, like aerobics, cardio or swimming. If none of these appeal to you, chose whatever you like, as long as you aim for moderate-intensity physical activity.
And remember, exercising is affordable for everyone! Take the stairs, not the elevator, or add an extra walk around your block.
Dancing is even better because it also focuses on coordination, rhythm, and strategy. Dance while cleaning your house – this way you shoot two birds with one stone. Keep your mind sharp at any age!