Everyone knows exercise is good for you. It improves your cardiovascular health, decreases stress levels and helps maintain a healthy weight. However, exercise also helps your mind stay sharp and focused, especially as you get older.
Exercise keeps your brain stimulated and blood circulating
Exercise benefits your brain the same way it benefits the rest of your body. It increases blood circulation, allowing more oxygen and glucose to reach your brain. The oxygen is necessary to keep the cells alive, and the glucose is used as an energy source for your brain cells to munch on. Good circulation also means waste can be taken away from your brain more quickly. Additionally, the increased need for oxygen when you exercise causes you to breathe deeper and more often, getting your lungs in good shape.
Physical exercise isn't the only type of exercise to consider. Mental exercises can also keep your mind stimulated and your brain cells engaged and working hard. Different types of mental activities such as reading, memorization games or even doing activities with your non-dominant hand all exercise different parts of your mind, keeping you clearheaded and focused.
Studies prove what has long been assumed
While it might not be news that exercise is good for your mind, two new studies have recently been published that have helped cement the notion that lifelong bodily and mental exercise can reduce the risk of both Alzheimer's and dementia.
In one recent study, adults ages 45-88 were asked about their physical activity over the last 10 years. Then they each had a brain scan to detect the presence of a specific protein linked to Alzheimer's. The scans indicated that those who exercised had significantly fewer of these protein deposits than those who never exercised. Some people naturally have more of the protein deposits due to a certain gene, but those with the gene who exercised showed as little protein build-up as those who exercised and did not have this gene.
A similar study asked older participants about their levels of mental activity from childhood to adulthood. They found that those who were mentally active throughout their life have fewer protein deposits that can lead to Alzheimer's than those who did not consistently read, write or play mentally challenging games.
Small efforts make a difference
For your brain to receive the benefits of exercise, your workouts don't even need to be strenuous. Increased activity of at least 30 minutes a day can make a difference by getting your heart pumping and keeping your brain supplied with fresh blood. Low-impact activities such as walking, gardening, yoga and bicycling are great if you're not able to do higher-intensity exercises such as running or aerobic classes. Anything helps, so long as your heart starts pumping!