Posted by: Thixia | February 27, 2008

Exercise keeps your mind sharp

Memory improvement: Exercise keeps your mind sharp

Stop searching for that secret supplement or magic pill that promises memory improvement as you age. Studies show that one of the best things you can do for memory improvement is physical exercise. In case you needed one more reason to get off the couch, researchers have found that exercise can increase your brainpower, help put off normal aging-related memory loss and, perhaps, even prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

What does exercising your body have to do with your brain and memory improvement?

It’s long been known that exercise is good for your heart. But now it seems that what’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Exercise increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. And exercise seems to slow the loss of brain tissue that typically begins in your 40s.

Normal aging processes can make it difficult to recall certain facts or instances. Normal aging also makes multitasking more difficult. For instance, you may need to stop between tasks and remember what you were working on, rather than seamlessly switching back and forth.

Studies have found that exercise seems to delay or sometimes prevent these specific aging-related changes in your brain. And in some cases, exercise may even provide memory improvement.

How much exercise do you need for memory improvement?

Studies haven’t been consistent on this topic. What is clear, however, is that even small amounts of exercise can help you stay mentally sharp. And exercise is most beneficial for memory improvement when it’s done regularly — at least three times each week.

Your ultimate goal should be to exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week, as this is best for your heart. Several studies have found 30-minute exercise sessions are beneficial for your brain, too.

If you’re just getting started, don’t worry about the time. One study found 15-minute exercise sessions a few times each week reduced older adults’ risk of dementia. The benefit was greatest to those participants who hadn’t exercised previously. So if you’re reluctant to exercise, remember that it won’t take a great time commitment to reap the rewards. Break up your exercise sessions throughout the day, for instance into 10-minute periods of activity. Once you get going, you may find that adding more exercise time brings even more benefits for your health.

What type of exercise is best for memory improvement?

Studies haven’t focused on what exercise is best. What the research shows, though, is that you don’t have to wear yourself out to benefit from exercise. Many studies have found that simply walking regularly can help your brain.

Researchers have found a link between a healthy heart and healthy brain, which suggests that exercise that is good for your heart is also good for the rest of your body. Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping. Try walking, jogging, biking or swimming. Exercise at a pace that allows you to talk while you’re moving.

Some evidence suggests that strength training may work with aerobic exercise to offer further benefits. Strength training may stimulate your body to produce a natural hormone that protects your brain cells. Add some strengthening exercises to your routine. Lift weights or use your own body weight to build muscle by doing exercises such as deep knee bends and push-ups.

When can you expect results?

Normal aging-related memory loss occurs very slowly. Don’t expect to be winning trivia contests after only a few weeks of exercise. But you can expect subtle changes over time. One small study found older adults who began walking for exercise improved their ability to multitask after six months.

The key is to be consistent and to keep at it. To stay motivated, try to:

Set yourself up for success. Set small goals that you know you can achieve at first. Walk for 10 minutes at a time a few days a week. Once you reach that goal, add a few minutes to your exercise sessions every few weeks. Keep track of your activity so that you can see how far you’ve come. Post your goals somewhere visible — such as on the refrigerator — so you’ll see them and be reminded of them every day.
Join a group or start your own. You may find that exercise buddies keep you motivated. Join a walking group in your neighbourhood or at your workplace, or start your own.
Find a reliable location. If bad weather keeps you from getting outdoors, find a reliable indoor location that makes it easy to stick to your exercise routine. Health clubs are one solution, though they can be expensive. Shopping malls offer protection from the rain, cold or sun for walking.
Find an activity you enjoy. If walking sounds boring, try swimming or riding your bike. Join a health club where you can try a variety of fitness classes.
If you aren’t currently active, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. He or she can recommend types of exercise that may be safe for you.

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