You’ve probably been told that getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week is good for your health. It helps you stay fit, keeps certain chronic conditions at bay, and can increase your energy level. Did you know, though, that exercise may be good for your mental fitness as well? Recent research indicates that exercising to improve your body can also be beneficial for your brain.
There are a number of studies backing up this hypothesis. One recent study focused on 454 older adults who were given physical exams and cognitive tests annually for 20 years and then donated their brains for research when they died. Their movement was continually checked using accelerometers. The findings? The people who moved more had better scores on the memory and thinking tests, with each step up in physical activity lowering dementia risk by 31 percent. Even after accounting for the brain pathology of the participants and whether or not they had dementia, the association between physical activity and brain function was consistent.
Another study included 160 sedentary older people with mild cognitive impairment. Participants were asked to take part in various options: aerobic exercise for 45 minutes, three times a session, a heart-healthy diet, a combination of diet and exercise, or health education. The people who followed the diet did not improve on executive function assessments and the health education group’s function got worse. On the other hand, those who exercised improved their thinking and memory, and the improvement was even more significant for those who exercised and followed the diet.
Physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is good for maintaining brain health. This even holds true for people who have other risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Physical activity is, in fact, one of the few modifiable risk factors for dementia. Experts believe that exercise benefits your brain by promoting cardiovascular health, improving blood flow to the brain, lowering stress hormones, and reducing inflammation. Exercise promotes neuroplasticity, and may also increase the thickness of the cerebral cortex, physically improving the brain’s white matter, which connects the nerve cells in the gray matter.
It doesn’t have to be extreme physical exercise to be impactful. 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is optimal, but any amount of exercise is beneficial. Along with exercise, here are some other steps to take to keep your brain in good shape and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia:
- Stay socially engaged. Regularly connect with other people. You can do this by volunteering, joining a club or social group, visiting the local senior center or community center, taking group classes, interacting with neighbors or friends, or even just going out to public places like museums and parks.
- Eat a healthy diet. Reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods, instead loading up on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Eat fatty fish for the Omega-3 fatty acids and cook at home whenever you can. Drink only in moderation and don’t smoke.
- Try new, mentally stimulating activities. Read books, learn a new hobby, play strategy games, or do puzzles. Challenge yourself to be better at activities you already do, and try taking an unfamiliar route from time to time, or using your non-dominant hand to do a task.
- Get good, quality sleep. Establishing a regular sleep schedule is important for brain health.
- Manage your stress. Practice deep breathing, learn relaxation techniques, prioritize leisure, and keep your sense of humor.
- Take care of your heart. Keep an eye on your blood pressure and watch your cholesterol levels.
At Parkwood Heights, we prioritize the health and happiness of our residents. That’s one of the reasons this is a great place to live your best life. A lovely community in which to spend your retirement, Parkwood Heights is located just minutes from Victor, Fairport, Farmington, and Canandaigua. Our picturesque, 122-acre senior living campus affords many opportunities to enjoy your time with friends and family while enjoying our scenic setting. Call (315) 986-9100 to learn more about all that we have to offer, or check out our website and reach out if you have any questions.