By Betty Murray
As we age, cognitive function decreases, but loss of memory and mental function isn’t necessarily inevitable. Healthy brains are more likely to maintain their function throughout the years. So how do you keep your brain healthy?
In the same way you keep your body fit and healthy, nutrition and physical activity are essential in keeping your brain healthy. Some forms of physical exercise may be better for your brain than others. For example, science shows a relationship between aerobic, or cardio, exercise and brain health. In one University of British Columbia study, researchers found that regular aerobic exercises may boost the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning. Other studies suggest the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are also larger in people who exercise regularly compared to people who don’t. Exercise also indirectly improves mood and anxiety by promoting the flow of endorphins (“feel good” hormones) throughout the body.
What exercises are best for your mind?
Although there is no conclusive evidence to suggest one type of cardio exercise is better for your mind than others, here are a few tips to for exercising for your mind:
• Choose any form of exercise that is good for your heart. In general, any exercise that gets your heart rate up and your blood pumping can improve your brainpower. That includes: running/jogging, cycling, swimming, brisk walking, group exercise classes like Zumba and kickboxing, to name a few.
• Exercise in the morning. Getting your workout in before your day starts will help jumpstart your brain and prepare your mind for the day. Exercising in the morning can also help improve retention of new information and your reaction to stressful or complex situations.
• Choose exercises requiring coordination. Aerobic exercises that also require coordination, such as dancing, are best for your mind. Challenge your brain to have quick reflexes by trying something new and less monotonous than running, for example.
• Change it up. Circuit-type exercises are also good for your mind, as they require you to redirect your focus every few minutes. Circuit workouts are also ideal when you’re trying to squeeze a good workout into a short amount of time.
How much exercise do you need?
In the University of British Columbia study, participants walked briskly for one hour, twice a week, equaling 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. The standard recommendation is that adults get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week, or 150 minutes per week. If you don’t have 30 minutes at one time to workout, break your exercise into 10 minute increments throughout the day.
Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals