When we think of physical fitness, we usually correlate its benefits with improving our bodies, whether that be through losing weight, gaining muscle mass, or improving our cardiovascular health. But did you know that physical activity can also go a long way in boosting our brain health? Not only does fitness improve mental health and decrease stress, but it can also enhance our cognitive function by enhancing our memory & problem-solving skills while potentially lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 60 to 85% of the global population does not engage in enough physical activity to remain healthy, and studies have shown that this sedentary lifestyle is currently one of the top causes of death in the world and also contributes to many ailments like cognitive decline. Regardless of age or fitness level, physical activity can go a long way when it comes to our brain health and quality of life.
According to a research findings, cognitive decline is 2x more common in adults who are inactive compared to those who engage in regular physical activity. In another six-month study, a sample group of sedentary older people with mild cognitive impairment participated in an aerobic exercise 3x a week at 45 minutes per session, which resulted in an improvement in both thinking and memory.
"Cognitive decline is 2x more common in adults who are inactive compared to those who engage in regular physical activity."
Neuropsychologist, Dr. Aaron Bonner-Jackson says that physical activity benefits our cognition as it helps us prioritize cardiovascular health, improve blood flow to our brains, reduce inflammation, and reduce stress hormones. While Alzheimer’s and dementia can’t be cured just yet, exercise can prolong the risks for cognitive decline for many years while also adding years to your lifespan.
Health experts recommend that at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week can promote a healthy heart, but how much activity is needed to boost our brain function? 90 to 120 minutes, which breaks down to just 30-40 minutes/3x a week of aerobic activity a week can give us the most benefits for our brain health by increasing our heart rates, increasing endorphins to help you stay mentally sharp, and stimulating the growth of new brain cells.
When it comes to incorporating physical activity into your lifestyle, you can do so gradually by introducing new habits to get your body moving. Whether it’s opting to take the stairs instead of the elevators, chores (i.e. yard work, mopping, vacuuming), or walking your dog, there are many easy lifestyle changes that can get your body moving. And if running or the gyms are not quite your thing, you can opt for activities like at- home workouts, dance class, tai-chi, or even implementing movements like squatting or marching in place while watching your favorite TV show. Any increased activity is certainly better than none, and overtime, you can build your way up to a longer, more challenging fitness routine. If you’re looking to set fitness goals and incorporate new activities into your lifestyle, check out this helpful planner to help you set goals and get some new ideas!
Whether or not you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s or other dementias, age-related memory loss can be a normal part of aging, and boosting our brainpower should be practiced at any age. Our brain’s ability to develop and adapt is based on neuroplasticity, which enables us to process new information and enhance our ability to remember.
In addition to physical fitness, here are some other brain-boosting activities we can engage in to stimulate our brains.
- Strategy games like word puzzles, Sudoku, chess
- Reading a new book and the newspaper daily
- Learning a new activities (ie. gardening, woodwork, pottery, a new language)
- Meditation to focus the mind
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