We all know that we should exercise, right? (And probably feel guilty if we don’t.) Exercise helps us to lose weight (or maintain a healthy one), increases muscle mass, helps to build and strengthen bones, improves mood, builds flexibility and strength, fights fatigue, and even lessens joint pain. And research is showing that it can build your brain, too.
A recent article in Neurology: Clinical Practice examined 98 (!) studies concerning exercise and cognitive health. (Here’s an article from Consumer Reports summarizing the research: https://www.consumerreports.org/exercise-fitness/how-to-exercise-for-brain-health/)
In the many many studies analyzed, the exercise programs lasted about six months. Both cognitively impaired people and those with normal cognition benefited from exercise.
It has long been known that aerobic exercise enhances brain function, but the new studies also show that the brains of people over 50 can benefit significantly from other forms of exercise, as well. Such as?
Walking.No special equipment needed here; just put on some comfortable shoes ($200 sports shoes with bells, whistles, and springs not necessary), get up, and go! If you can, work your way up to a pretty good clip in order to increase the amount of oxygen reaching your brain.
Resistance training. Your gym, health club, or local Y can provide you with equipment and a trainer, but you can also practice effective resistance training in the very basic ways without any special equipment at all. For example, when you stand up, trying doing so without using your hands to push off from your chair. (You can still say “ooof” if you like, though.) Ditch the elevator and take the stairs instead. You get the idea.
Try Tai Chi or Chi Gong.Both Tai Chi and Chi Gong can be amazing for building lower body strength, and they also increase aerobic capacity due to the deep breathing involved in both disciplines. There are lots of videos out there, of course, but a class or private instructor is really the way to go, both for learning proper technique and for the support that comes from exercising with others. (Chi Gong classes and private lessons are part of what I offer at reSource Wellness; see below for a look at a delightfully rambunctious intergenerational Chi Gong class at my office. Shoot me an email and we’ll talk.)
The brain benefits started to be noticeable after participants engaged in 52 hours of exercise. Why 52 is the magic number, nobody seems to know. But the time to start is now!
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