One of the most renowned researchers in the area of brain health is Dr. Art Kramer, Director of Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. When he was asked what are two to three lifestyle habits that we can execute to improve our brain health his reply was to:
- Be active by engaging in 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity three days a week
- Participate in intellectual activities
- Engage in social interaction
And for optimal benefit combine all three!
Today, in honor of the upcoming Brain Awareness Week (March 16-22), I want to share a little bit of information in regards to how exercise plays an important role in brain health across the lifespan.
Researchers are consistently reporting that what is good for our bodies is also good for our brains. This includes both eating well and exercising regularly. As we age, our brains much like our bodies have a generalized tendency to slow down. As people age, they tend to report that they have slower reaction times, that it takes longer to learn new information or a new skill and they have more difficulty with multi-tasking. Individuals, at any age, who partake in regular aerobic activity, have shown faster reaction times, better concentration and an increased ability to focus and ignore non-essential stimuli. These are things that we may take for granted at early stages in life.
When thinking about what kind of physical activity and how much – it is pretty simple. Experts, recommend minimally 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity three times a week. This can be activities that you enjoy such as gardening, biking, or swimming. Simply walking at your regular pace have been found to be more beneficial than not doing anything. Activities that engage the body and the mind socially or with strategy can have even more of a brain health impact – possible activities include dancing, ping pong, and group activity classes that have a social component.
Exercise improves brain functioning by:
- Protecting against nerve cell death
- Promoting new neurons (neurogenesis) being formed in the hippocampus, the part of the brain where memories are formed
- Maintaining and building neural connections/pathways critical for our neurons to communicate (brain connectivity)
- Increasing the blood flow to the brain – which carries oxygen critical to brain function
Exercise also decreases the chances of having a damaging health condition or minimizes the negative health impact of a chronic disease such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
Here are some resources if you are looking to start a physical activity regimen:
The National Institute on Aging/National Institute on Health
- Go4Life – physical activity campaign
- Fit and Fabulous as You Mature
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
*It is always good to check in with your doctor if you plan to start a new exercise program or increase the difficulty of your current regimen.
Here are a couple of articles covering Dr. Art Kramer's research on physical activity and brain health: