For years exercise has been stressed as part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise not only helps us to manage our weight but also provides stress relief and reduces risk of certain diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, but perhaps the best news connected to the benefits of physical activity have to do with the brain and keeping dementia at bay.
According to the World Heath Organization, more than 35 and a half million people worldwide are living with dementia. A new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds, projecting that the number of people suffering from dementia will nearly double every 20 years. More than half of those over the age of 85 suffer from some form of dementia. While Alzheimer’s disease is perhaps the most common form of dementia, there are several other types and most are progressive in nature.
But the good news is that brain decline is not an inevitable part of aging. There are many people living into their 90’s and even 100’s today who suffer no signs of dementia. And the number one way to stave off signs of dementia? According to Neuroscientist Art Kramer of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, the most important thing you can do for your brain is exercise.
Kramer conducted a study which began with brain scans of 120 older adults. Half of the study participants started a program of moderate aerobic exercise three days a week. After one year, the new scans showed that for the group who exercised, the volume of their brains actually increased! In addition, those who were in the non-exercising group lost about one and a half percent of their brain volume. Further tests showed that an increase in brain volume translates to better memory. The study backed up other research that showed exercise led to increased blood supply across regions of the brain, the development of new neurons and stronger connections between new neurons. Additional studies in California and British Columbia have resulted in similar findings.
So what are the best types of exercise for your brain? In general, go with the rule that anything that is good for your heart is also good for your brain. Aerobic exercise, as little as walking each day is a great choice. Activities that combine coordination with cardio exercise are also excellent choices. There is also some belief that mental and physical exercise together are a powerful combination when it comes to learning and memory.
Whatever type of exercise you choose, to reap the most benefits, make it a regular part of your weekly routine, getting in at least a 30 minute workout three or more times per week. For more information on how exercise benefits our brains, and for a few tips on choosing the best exercises for you, click here.