It is a well-know fact that staying physically active as we age is one of the most important things we can do to preserve our health, happiness and independence, but sedentary lifestyles don’t just affect our physical health. New studies are showing that there are strong links between being physically active and brain health.
Physical activity promotes brain health in a number of ways, including increasing blood flow which helps improve cerebrovascular health. It stimulates new neuron growth and increases glucose and lipid metabolism, which helps nourish the brain.
A study done at the University of Illinois saw a positive link between physical and activity and the microstructures of “white matter” in the brain. Healthy white matter is linked to faster neural conduction between brain regions and superior cognitive performance.
Exercise of any kind can also help boost mood. When the body is physically active the brain releases natural feel-good chemicals that help us maintain a positive mental outlook on life.
So how much exercise do we need for a healthy brain? The answer may not be what you would expect. A recent study showed improvements in cognitive function any one who exercised a minimum of 75 minutes a week. What was startling was that those who exercised longer, the top time being 225 minutes a week, showed about the same improvement.
So it appears that in terms of boosting mental abilities, more is not better after a certain point. However, physical capabilites (which can be linked to confidence and therefore mood) are definitely improved with more time spent being active.
You are never too old to start exercising. And with the many physical and mental benefits that come with regular physical activity there is no reason not to start today!
Johnson, DK, Morris JK et al (2015) “Dose-Response of Aerobic Exercise on Cognition: A Community-Based Randomized Controlled Tria,l” PLOS ONE 10 (7):e0131647.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131647
The Art of Growing Young, March/April 2016, “The Right Amount of Exercise for Seniors”, pg. 24.