If you’d like to give your brain cells a boost (and why not?
Although Americans now spend $80 million yearly on “brain exercise” products such as Sudoku puzzles and computer games, research shows that what really benefits the brain—in a myriad of ways—is aerobic exercise at a mild to moderate level.
We’re talking activity along the lines of just 30-
Here’s what it can do for you:
- Slows age-
related shrinkage of the frontal cortex which is important for “executive function, ” the ability to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation and focus on the job at hand—in spite of distractions. Executive function includes processing speed, response speed and working memory. When people get more exercise (even starting in their 70s) executive function improves.
- Releases growth factors (proteins) that “grow” new neurons in the hippocampus and increase the numbers of connections between neurons, possibly improving memory.
- Increases oxygen flow to the brain and releases neurotransmitters, improving mood, vitality, alertness and feelings of well-
being. Reduces anger, fatigue and tension.
- Increases the number of capillaries in the brain which may improve blood flow to neurons.
- Reduces risk of dementia later in life. People who exercise regularly in middle age are one-
third as likely to get Alzheimer’s disease in their 70s as those who didn’t exercise. Even people who begin exercising in their 60s can reduce their risk by half.
- Improves cardiovascular health which can prevent heart attacks and strokes that may cause brain damage.
That’s an amazing list of benefits! But, let’s talk tactics. Of course, we have the best intentions when it comes to exercise, but before the shoe-
5 Steps to Stay Motivated
The hardest part of exercising is sticking with it. To help you over that hurdle, here are five tips from Wendy Shore, PhD, department of Physical medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins.
- Determine why exercise is important for you.
Do you want to play with your grandchildren without getting tired? Control a pre- diabetes diagnosis? Whatever the reason, think seriously about why physical activity is vital to your future. Making it personal raises the chances you’ll do it.
- Set reasonable goals.
Don’t think, “I promise I’ll exercise for the rest of my life. ” Instead, start small: “I will exercise this week. ” Then take it one day at a time.
- Write it down.
Put an exact time on your calendar for exercise. (“Monday: Walk 4: 00- 4: 30”). Treat your workout like a doctor’s appointment—don’t break it.
- Find someone to exercise with but preferably not your spouse (you’re less likely to cancel on a friend). Set weekly workout dates.
- No negotiations.
Train yourself to consider exercise as something you just do, like brushing your teeth or showering. Sometimes it seems like a chore, but not doing it should be out of the question.