The key to maintaining your brain? Exercise

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Written by Joannah Brahman, Accredited Exercise Physiologist

Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is the key to making a real difference to your brain health.

Recent studies have found that those who spend more time sitting (between 3-15 hours a day) have less brain volume in the area that is associated with memory and thinking (called the Hippocampus). This information further adds to our understanding that being sedentary, or getting little movement throughout the day, is bad for our health and may lead to a more rapid decline in your memory. In fact, research shows that people who have a higher level of cardiovascular fitness have a lower risk of dementia.

Let’s talk a little bit of science to help you understand why physical activity will do the trick to keep your brain healthy!

Going for a walk will increase the bodies demand for more oxygen, compared to when you are sedentary. By getting more oxygen into the body, you are encouraging healthy blood vessels and the release of growth factors, which in turn results in the development of new brain cells.

With the growing amount of evidence into the benefits of physical activity, it would be fair to say that physical activity is kind of like your bodies superannuation. If you invest in doing a little bit of physical activity regularly each day, over the long-term these small investments will likely reward you in terms of maintaining better health in later life.

The good news is that don’t you have to run a marathon to get some brain health benefits. Studies have shown 20 minutes of physical activity can make a change to your memory function!

Here are some simple tips you to keep give your brain a boost:

  • Cardiovascular exercise – anything that is good for your heart is going to be great for your brain! Do some type of cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart pumping for longer than 10 minutes (for example go for a brisk walk, swim or bike ride).
  • Strength training – maintaining your strength and muscle mass into later life has been shown to have significant effect on brain health and lowering the risk of cognitive decline. Challenge your muscles with body weight exercises, hand weights, resistance bands or find challenging activities around the house like lifting, carrying or digging.
  • Minimise prolonged periods of sitting – find opportunities throughout the day to stand-up and move (especially if you have a desk job or find yourself sitting for long amounts of time). As a general rule, try and not sit for longer than 1 hour at a time. You can set reminders on electronic devices to encourage movement if you find yourself sitting for too long.
  • Adaptation occurs in response to novel exposure – The best ‘brain health workouts’ are ones that incorporate cardiovascular exercise with mental demands (for example dancing, ball games, exercise circuits, wii-fit or dual-tasking.

What is dual-tasking?

It involves you combining your cardiovascular exercise with a mentally challenging tasks.

For example, next time you go for your walk or bike ride add in a number task, like counting backwards from 100 by 5.

You don’t need to be an athlete, you just need to move a little more than you did yesterday.

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