You know getting regular exercise has health benefits for your body, but can doing those laps in the pool or an extra set of pushups help keep your brain healthy, too? The answer, according to researchers, is yes.
Scientists in England found aerobic exercise “significantly enhanced cognitive abilities while resistance training had a pronounced effect on executive function, memory, and working memory” in older adults.
How Exercise Affects Brain Health
Have you ever noticed you think clearer after a workout or even a stroll around the block? You can thank the effects of exercise — increased neuron activity in your brain and increased blood flow — for that clear head.
Exercise increases blood flow around your body, allowing your muscles and brain to perform optimally. Blood supplies your brain with nutrients and oxygen, and it’s this increase in blood flow that helps preserve and boost your brain health.
Each time you take a walk, you’re helping your brain improve its performance.
Working up a sweat also has benefits for your hippocampus, studies show. Your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible learning and memory, is very active during exercise. When you’re active, the neurons in your hippocampus are too, which is part of the reason your mind feels sharper.
What Exercises Should I do to Keep my Brain Healthy?
Any physical activity that gets your blood pumping benefits your brain. Specifically, studies have shown that aerobic exercises — like swimming, running or cycling — are most beneficial because they increase the heart, lungs and blood’s ability to transport oxygen to the brain. The extra oxygen allows your brain to increase in volume by increasing the number of blood vessels and synapses, which helps lessen brain atrophy.
If you don’t enjoy — or can’t do — aerobic exercise, you can still get the exercise benefits while doing low-intensity activities like yoga, tai chi or resistance training as well.
As for how often you should exercise to receive the benefits, the jury is still out. Though experts do recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. That translates to about 150 minutes of activity per week.
If that seems daunting, remember walking and household chores — like vacuuming or mopping — count toward your physical activity time. Activities like dancing, stair climbing, tennis, squash or even gardening or raking are also good for your brain health.
What’s important, researchers note, are the cumulative effects of exercise on brain health and cognitive impairment. Researchers found the greatest brain health benefits in those older adults who exercised at least 52 hours over a period of about six months, which translates into about an hour of exercise three times per week.