Staying Physically Active is Good for Your Body – and Your Brain

Most of us are aware of the benefits of exercise for our body – it’s helps control your weight, boosts your energy and lowers your risk for all kinds of maladies including heart disease, stroke and diabetes, just to name a few. But what many may not know is that exercise also benefits the brain.

In one study involving more than 600 people in Scotland, researchers discovered that people in their 70s who participated in physical exercise had less brain shrinkage than those were more sedentary. They also had fewer signs of aging in the brain overall, including better brain circuitry connections. Researchers even went so far to say that exercise helps reduce brain shrinkage better than mentally and socially stimulating activities like playing chess or learning a new language, although these activities are important for maintaining brain health as well.

In a separate study conducted at the University of British Columbia, researchers discovered that aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning.

Physical activity may also help ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementias. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent, a finding duplicated by John Medina, an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He claims that aerobic exercise can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half.

And for those who think they simply don’t have enough time in the day to exercise, we have some good news and bad news for you. The good news is that even moderate exercise can provide amazing benefits. In a study done by the University of Georgia, researchers discovered that even brief workouts – as little as 20 minutes a day – improve memory. In another study of seniors, those who reported that they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment due to any reason by 60 percent. The bad news? You no longer have a reason to put off exercising.

So, what exercises should you do to boost brain health? As we mentioned, aerobic exercises (also known as cardio workouts) have shown to increase brain size. This includes anything that gets blood pumping and increases the heart rate – things like running, swimming, and bicycling. If you like the social aspects of the gym, get on a treadmill or take an aerobics class. Generally speaking, anything that’s good for the heart is good for the brain. If you get bored with the same old thing, try taking a dance class, hike your favorite trail, or invite a friend to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood.