The Benefit of Exercise on the Body and the Brain
We’re all aware that exercise is important to maintain a healthy body. Aerobic exercise such as running, swimming, or biking boosts heart health. Stretching increases flexibility. Strength training builds muscle. Physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, which may further reduce your risk for many diseases and conditions.
Physical activity remains important as we age
Being physically active isn’t just for the young. In fact, older adults may reap greater benefits from exercise because they may be more susceptible to many of the diseases that exercise can prevent or they have a chronic condition that physical activity can help, such as osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, or heart disease.
Physical activity also helps the mind
What many people don’t realize is that exercise is also an essential element in promoting brain health. In this regard, aerobic exercise seems to be the most effective. A 2017 report published in the journal NeuroImage analyzed numerous clinical trials involving people before and after participating in an aerobic exercise program. The program consisted of stationary bicycling, walking, and running on a treadmill. This analysis confirmed that aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory.
Exercise and Alzheimer’s
Other studies appear to confirm the role of exercise in brain health. Researchers from the University of British Columbia reviewed data from more than 150 research articles about the effect of exercise on people living with Alzheimer’s. They concluded that, while there is still no known cure for Alzheimer’s, physical activity is associated with better mobility and the ability to perform daily activities – and may improve general cognitive function – for people currently living with Alzheimer’s. For those who did not have Alzheimer’s, researchers concluded that physical activity significantly reduced their risk for developing the disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent.
Exercise keeps the brain from shrinking
Another study conducted by the University of Edinburgh followed over 600 seniors born in 1936. After three years, researchers discovered that those who were more physically active had less brain shrinkage. “People in their seventies who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active,” said study author Alan J. Gow, PhD. Researchers went even further and noted that those engaging in physical activity had less brain shrinkage than those who participated primarily in mentally and socially stimulating activities.
How much exercise is enough?
In a study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, researchers observed that people who regularly engaged in physical activity reduced their risk of vascular dementia by 40 percent and their risk of cognitive impairment by 60 percent. When determining how much activity one should engage in to achieve those results, researchers recommended 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise at least three times a week.
Tips for maintaining a regular health regimen
Even though one doesn’t have to live at the gym to keep a healthy brain, it can be a challenge for many to start – and keep – a healthful workout routine. As we mentioned, aerobic exercise seems to be best for maintaining brain health. Anything that gets your heart pumping may benefit your brain. If you don’t think you have the motivation to stay active week after week, try taking an aerobics class. Socializing with others often helps people commit to a steady routine. Many people with mobility issues find exercising in water especially beneficial, as it is often less painful and the water supports the body, making it easier to move. Take a dance class, walk your dog, go to the woods for a hike, or ask a friend or neighbor to walk with you through your neighborhood. Activity is the key, so use your imagination to create a routine you can stick with.