We are all aware of the positive effects of regular exercise – weight control, aerobic fitness, the maintenance of muscular strength, blood pressure control, and the improvement of HDL (high-density lipoprotein). However, not nearly as obvious to most are the positive effects of exercise on brain function, especially as we age. What we have found out over time is that the brain is more “plastic” in function than we thought and our brain circuits are changing constantly depending on what we’re doing (or not doing) in the world. Dementia is the loss of the brain’s elasticity and it seems that the old adage “use it or lose it” applies to brain elasticity and circuitry. Exciting new research shows that exercise, both mental and physical, can help decrease the risk of dementia in adult life.
Peter Elwood of the Cochrane Institute at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom did a study of 2235 men (aged 45-59 years) over 30 years. The results showed that:
1. Eating a healthy diet
2. Having a BMI (body mass index) between 18-25
3. Not Smoking
4. Limiting Alcohol Consumption
reduced the risk of cognitive decline by 60%!
BUT, better than all those well-known healthy habits was EXERCISE! Biking 10 miles a day, walking 2 miles a day, or other daily vigorous exercise produced the best results.
Another study showed that walking at least 1 mile a day significantly enhanced the volume of several brain areas and a different study revealed that higher aerobic fitness levels were associated with larger right and left hippocampi and therefore better spatial memory performance.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia) are devastating illnesses. The latest research showing the benefits of exercise on brain health gives us one more reason to make exercise a daily habit.