If you exercise regularly you know exercise always makes your mind feel clearer and more focused. New research shows that exercise not only reduces our waistlines and emotional stress, but that exercise can have long term measurable effects on brain function as you age.
Cardio, weight training and playing sports give us long-term improvements to cognitive function, like improved memory and reduced risk of dementia. If you consistently exercise, you will improve your brain functioning for your whole life.
Get Fit, Gain Brain Power
Just like different types of exercise have different effects on the body, different types of exercise have a specific effect on cognitive ability. Aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons, also known as neurogenesis through the release of brain-derived neurotopic factors. Endurance exercises release Irisin, a hormone linked to improved cognitive function, fat loss and overall health.
Researchers of the “Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Cognitive Function, The CARDIA Study” specifically linked cardio exercise and improved verbal memory, psychomotor speed (the relationship between physical movement and thinking skills), and executive function. Regular and consistent exercise can increase the size of your hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with memory and spatial navigation. In a study at the University of British Columbia, elderly women with mild cognitive impairment participated in weight training. The women were able to improve their associative memory, which is the ability to recall events in context of how they happened.
Improves Cognitive Functioning at Every Age
Regular exercise improves the ability of children to plan and think. Inactive children who start to exercise can increase brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with decision making and complex thinking. Adults are found to have better verbal memory, faster psychomotor speeds, as well as improved executive function up to 20 years after participating in a consistent exercise program. Middle aged adults who regularly exercise can protect themselves from dementia in old age. Elderly people who exercise can reduce stress, improve memory and enhance mood.
Memory and Age
The ability to remember words, events and sequences diminishes as we age. By consistently participating in endurance, weight training and cardio exercises we can improve cognitive functioning. Research proves that it’s never too late to start. Even beginning to exercise in middle age will substantially decrease the risk of dementia, especially if you’ve been inactive or are obese. The Finnish study: Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) also showed that it wasn’t just aerobic or endurance exercise that reduced the risk of exercise, engaging in leisure-time physical activity had a lower risk of dementia than individuals who were less active.
Top 4 Ways to Improve Brain Function:
Also known as aerobic exercise, cardio can be of low to high intensity depending on your level of fitness and ability. Aerobic exercise elevates your heart rate to 50-80% of your maximum heart rate. You can calculate your target aerobic threshold by subtracting your age from 220, 70%. Depending on your fitness level and time available the American College of Sports Medicine has 2 recommendations for cardio: 30 minutes of moderate cardio five times per week, or 20 minutes of intense cardio three times per week. Cardio exercises include: walking outside or on a treadmill, bicycling, jogging or running, aerobic exercise classes.
My choice is short but high intensity exercise (or more commonly known as HIIT: high intensity interval training) since this method not only boosts your mental brain function, but it’s also hands down the best way to burn fat and get lean. If you’ve never done high intensity exercise, it’s best to start out with less intensity and slowly work you way up to doing hard intensity. The key to doing these short bouts of exercise is intensity… not duration. It can be as short as 10 - 15 seconds bursts followed by 45 - 50 seconds (or longer) of rest and you can repeat it multiple times for a quick but super effective workout. That’s why all of my cardio workouts are based on HIIT in my MAX Workouts program.
When you weight train you apply load or resistance to your body which in turn promotes new muscles growth and increases density of your bones. Bottom line…weight training makes your muscles and bones stronger. The best type of exercise to do when you’re weight training is to do functional full body exercises like the ones I recommend in my MAX Workout program. By doing full body functional exercises you’re able to stimulate more muscles at once, so you can build more lean muscle and strengthen more bones faster. Traditional body building exercises will have you target specific muscles with specific types of movements… and although it’s not a bad way to weight train, it’s also not the most efficient or effective. Keep in ind that lifting weights does not have to be super heavy… especially if you’ve never lifted weights before. Start out light and concentrate on using proper form. It’s always better to use lighter weights and perform the exercise with good form than try to lift more weight by compromising your form.
Endurance exercises can include cardio, strength and balance exercises. Endurance refers to how long you can engage in an activity. When you first start exercising you may feel fatigued within 20 minutes but over time you will build your endurance and be able to exercise for longer periods of time. The national Institute on Aging recommends that you participate in at least 30 minutes of endurance activities everyday of the week. That being said, I know time is limited, so I would mix things up with HIIT, weight training and endurance activities. Personally, if you can go for a longer (30 - 60 minutes) walk or hike 2 - 3 times a week in combination with weight training and HIIT, I think you’ve got a perfect balance of exercises to optimize health for your brain and body.
Leisure Time Activities
Leisure time activities are activities that do not involve work or chores. A leisure time activity could be a hobby, a club that you join, or events that you go. The important aspect of leisure time activities is that they be consistent and provide a relaxing and possibly a social atmosphere.
So there you have it. 4 effective ways to boost your brain health and enhance your body’s strength and endurance. So here’s a sample breakdown of what a week may look like…
- Monday: Weight Training using full body exercises (30 minutes)
- Tuesday: Walk or Hike (30 - 60 minutes)
- Wednesday: HIIT - high intensity interval training (30 minutes)
- Thursday: Leisure Activity
- Friday: Weight training using full body exercises (30 minutes)
- Saturday: Walk or Hike (30 - 60 minutes)
- Sunday: Rest
The most important thing is to get your body moving and find a schedule that works for you. Consistency is key to any success and it’s no different when it comes to exercising and improving your brain power.
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