Exercising Your Way To Better Brain Health

In recent years, many studies have shown that regular exercise, in addition to computerized cognitive enhancement regimens, can enhance cognition.

The latest news on physical exercise:

Here is a no-brainer for you: as we get older or sicker, our cognitive functions gradually slow down. However, regular exercise helps prevent age- and disease-related brain deterioration.

This may not be a “hot-off-the-presses” piece of news, but since March 12 through 18 marks the Brain Awareness Week in the United States, it is a good time to think about ways to keep our brains sharp, alert, and healthy.

“Over the years, research has confirmed the link between physical activity and brain health,” says Sara Oliver, CPT, owner of Bay Area TX Adventure Boot Camp. “That’s one more compelling reason to get off the couch and start exercising.”

As evidenced by various studies, physical fitness benefits the brain not only by boosting our cognitive abilities - such as memory, understanding, learning and thinking skills - but also by helping to significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

How does exercise enhance our brain health? In several ways, Oliver says.

“Brain can shrink and deteriorate if it loses cells - called neurons - but exercise improves the flow of blood to this organ, encouraging the formation of new brain cells and supplying these cells with oxygen and nutrients,” she explains. “It is quite simple: when you exercise your body, you exercise your brain as well, so when your body is fit, so is your brain.”

Which types of exercise are best brainpower builders?

“Good news is that you don’t have to do any special workouts just to protect your brain - any brisk physical activity that raises the heart rate and pumps the oxygen-rich blood, will be beneficial,” she says. “If you feel your ticker beating in your chest, you are slightly breathless, and breaking a sweat, chances are you are doing your brain a huge favor!”

Instead of steady-state cardio, she recommends interval training - alternating bursts of high-intensity activity with periods of rest, which will effectively increase blood flow to the brain, heart and muscles -- plus it's also a very time-efficient workout.

“Add the interval training with some resistance training and you've got a real winner! And remember: the more regular your exercise program is, the more long-term benefits your brain – and your entire body – will derive from it,” Oliver says.

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