According to a new study, the effects of physical activity on brain volume were most pronounced at low physical activity levels. Study authors note that simply walking 15 minutes per day or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can have a positive impact on the brain. Results suggests that making small changes like this and engaging in moderate exercise will work wonders when it comes to keeping your mind sharp.
The Connection Between Brain Health and Exercise
Physical activity is beneficial for your overall health, including cognitive function.
“You are a genetic engineer, and what you do changes which genes are turned on or off in your body,” says Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic, founder of the Reboot Your Age app, and author of The Great Age Reboot: Cracking the Longevity Code for a Younger Tomorrow. “Physical activity that stresses muscles isn’t just good for your heart, blood vessels or muscles but it also turns on a gene in your muscles that produces irisin that crosses the blood-brain barrier and increases your brain’s memory center size and connections.”
Therefore, doing regular physical activity you like (if you don’t like walking, you can play with your kids or grandkids—whether it’s ping pong or whatever you like to do) reduces stress, increases metabolisms, and improves heart and lung functions.
However, possibly the most underrated benefit of physical fitness is its impact on brain health, Dr. Roizen adds. When an individual gets consistent physical activity, research shows that the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, benefits and cognition improves.
Related: Need More Motivation to Exercise? Here Are Six Mental Benefits
John Gardner, co-founder and CEO of Kickoff, says one of the easiest methods of adding exercise to your daily routine is performing daily tasks in a more healthy manner.
“This can include climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator, cycling to work or even going grocery shopping on foot. This helps ensure that you perform physical activity in your daily routine without having to allocate time and energy towards exercising,” says Gardner.
You can also walk and talk.
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Another excellent tip that can be really easy to follow is pacing while speaking on the phone or during virtual meetings.
Instead of sitting in front of a screen or at a desk during a meeting, you can take a call or virtual meeting on a mobile device and walk for the duration of the meeting, Gardner states. You’ll be surprised to find you’ve gotten more than 10,000 steps in per day and managed to add them during your work day without putting in the extra effort.
Strategies To Improve Your Cognitive Function
Here’s what else Dr. Roizen recommends to positively impact your brain health:
Get at least 10,000 steps in daily or the equivalent of that
The equivalent is approximately one minute of physical activity, such as biking, which equals 100 steps. Research shows that sedentary people 55 and older with difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering can reverse the clock by about nine years by doing aerobic exercise, like walking or biking, for 35 minutes three times a week. So, get moving!
Incorporate intense activity that will spike your heart rate
Adding more intense workouts helps turn on that gene that produces irisin which then releases a protein called BDNF, a brain-derived neurotrophic factor that grows your hippocampus. For my older folks, slowly build cardio into your fitness plan and work with your doctor to find what might work for you.
This includes running, swimming or biking, with enough intensity to increase your heart rate three times a week for 20 minutes to at least 80 percent of your age-adjusted maximum heart rate (approximately 220 minus your age for both men and women) has shown to decreases disability, dementia and even death.
But physical activity is not the only thing to do for good brain health.
Spend five to ten minutes a day engaging with games to challenge the mind. When the brain is consistently working with strategy, logic and puzzles, whether through exercise or speed of processing brain games, it fosters the growth of neurons, connections and the hippocampus.
Next up: Eight Memory-Boosting Tricks to Fuel Your Recall
- Neurology: “Association Between Accelerometer-Derived Physical Activity Measurements and Brain Structure”
- Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic, founder of the Reboot Your Age app, and author of The Great Age Reboot: Cracking the Longevity Code for a Younger Tomorrow
- John Gardner, co-founder and CEO of Kickoff