You have the power to fight a number of health problems, including cognitive decline. Although there are studies proving that your brain can shrink up to 15 percent as you get older – making you more prone to dementia, poor memory, and less-than-optimal-mental health – this is not an inevitable event, especially if you take steps to take care of your brain.
So how can you keep your brain healthy as you age? Dr. Joseph Mercola says that brain damage can be prevented and reversed with regular exercise.
How Exercise Affects Your Brainpower
“Staying active with a variety of activities is best, as each type of exercise may offer unique benefits for your brain health and may even help your brain to grow as you get older, rather than shrink,” says Dr. Mercola.
Exercise stimulates your brain by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their connections and protecting them from damage. Several animal tests have proven that during exercise, nerve cells release proteins called neurotrophic factors.
One particular type, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), encourages the production of chemicals that promote brain and neural health.
Furthermore, exercise helps your brain by:
- Stimulating the production of compounds that protect your nerves
- Promoting greater blood flow to your brain
- Improving the development and survival of neurons
- Decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disorders
A 2010 study on primates published in the journal Neuroscience reported that with regular exercise, monkeys not only gained improved blood flow to their brain but also obtained better learning abilities. (link)
According to an analysis of 100 studies published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, doing both aerobic and resistance training can yield favorable results for maintaining cognitive and neural health as you age.
Michelle Voss, the lead researcher and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, relayed several other benefits of exercise on your brain:
- Aerobic exercises can help improve your ability to coordinate multiple things, handle long-term planning, and sharpen your ability to stay on task for extended periods.
- Resistance training can help improve your focus.
- Based on the MRIs of people in their 60s, exercise helps prevent the diminishing of the prefrontal and temporal lobes, which declines with age.
- Due to aging, the hippocampus area of the brain, which is essential for memory formation, shrinks at a one to two percent rate per year for people in their 60s. With exercise, however, it grows by one to two percent instead.
Exercise and the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the studies referenced from the research stated above focused on the effects of exercise on the hippocampus region of the brain. This region is the memory center of your brain and is often the first to suffer damage and impairment at the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease. Once the disorder strikes, you may experience memory problems and disorientation.
However, the study states that with exercise, age-related hippocampus degeneration was reversed by one to two years, helping prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. (link) The research team even gave a recommendation, saying:
“We demonstrate that loss of hippocampal volume in late adulthood is not inevitable and can be reversed with moderate-intensity exercise.”
Apart from Alzheimer’s, the normal aging process can also cause brain problems that involve decreased blood flow to your brain and the accumulation of toxins to appear. As stated, these can be prevented and reversed through exercise.
Exercising at a Young Age Reaps Benefits, Too
While exercise supports and improves mental function of senior citizens, it can also benefit the minds of young people. The more physically active children are, the better they do in academics, reveals an extensive review of 14 studies with as many as 12,000 participants. Another study stated that even only after 30 minutes on the treadmill, children were able to solve problems up to 10 percent more efficiently.
In Naperville Central High School in Illinois, the benefits of exercise on schoolchildren were shown. Two years ago, a program inviting students to engage in a dynamic morning exercise program at the beginning of the day was implemented. Students had access to exercise bikes and balls throughout the day. Results revealed that those who participated increased their reading and math scores by 20-fold. (link)
These findings only prove that you should encourage your child to stay active in order to sharpen their minds. To motivate them, you can act as role models by exercising with them. The physical activities you choose do not need to be too strenuous. Activities like sports, brisk walking, bike riding, and hiking, are all ideal options for you and your kids.
No More Excuses: An Effective Exercise Routine for Busy People
One of the most common excuses why people fail to exercise is lack of time. It has been long believed that exercise, in order to be effective, should be done in prolonged periods. Dr. Mercola says that instead of devoting hours every day to get in shape, you can try Peak Fitness, a fitness regimen that only take 20 minutes to complete.
Peak Fitness is an exercise that involves high-intensity activities, alternating short bursts of exercise with ample recovery time in between. Studies show that high-intensity exercises provide phenomenal results in only a fraction of the time compared to traditional aerobic or cardio workouts.
Another amazing thing about Peak Fitness is that there is no specific manner in which it is done. Dr. Mercola suggests doing this workout either indoors (with a treadmill, an elliptical machine, or a recumbent bike) or outdoors (by bicycling outdoors or running in the backyard with your kids).
All in all, your exercise program should complement your lifestyle. Once you develop a routine, you will experience bountiful benefits for your physical, emotional, and mental health.
For more information about high-intensity exercises, visit Dr. Mercola’s Peak Fitness page.
Tags: Alzheimer’s Disease, brain exercises, cognitive decline resistance training, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Mercola, high intensity training, joe mercola, joseph mercola, mental health, Mercola, Peak Fitness