Exercise to keep your brain alive and well…

I’ve always been interested in the brain … mostly job-related … trying to understand how students learn.

These days, my focus has become more personal: keeping my brain alive and well in retirement … dodging the dementia bullet.

Specifically, I’ve been reading up on neurogenesis (how to stimulate growth of new brain cells) and neuroplasticity (how to “rewire” your brain by building new neural pathways).

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One of my first conclusions: exercise really matters!

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For years (decades?) medical and fitness gurus have harped on the need for regular exercise … mostly selling the cardiac and weight-loss benefits.

These days, they’re pitching the brain-benefits of exercise … with an increasing flow of scientific research.

The essence of the argument:

The hippocampus (memory center in the brain) shrinks in late adulthood, leading to impaired memory and increasing the likelihood of dementia. Source

How to slow the shrinkage?

Taking fish oils and OYC brain supplements may help, probably won’t hurt, but strike me as wishful marketing hype.

Exercise, though, seems to be naturally beneficial.

For example, in one Mayo Clinic study, a large group of adults were randomly assigned to one of two groups: the control group did stretching exercises 3 days per week for a year (2) the test group did reasonably strenuous aerobic exercise 3 times per week.

The results:  “Significantly improved scores were noted in the exercise group for memory, attention, processing speed, and executive function.”

Why?

Exercisers hippocampuses grew (slightly) while the control group’s shrunk … see the chart above. Source

That’s good enough for me!

So what to do?

Any aerobic exercise (e.g. brisk walking or running, biking, elliptical or stair-climber)

…. that gets your heart rate into a target range (usually 220 minus age times 70%)

at least 3 times per week … more is better

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References:

Neurogenesis – Grow brain cells with Exercise  5 minute video

Physical Exercise as a Preventive or Disease-Modifying Treatment of Dementia and Brain Aging  Mayo Clinic Research Report

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Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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2 Responses to “Exercise to keep your brain alive and well…”

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