Everyone knows that exercise is good for you.  It improves your cardiovascular health, stress levels, and helps to maintain a healthy weight.  However, exercise also helps your mind to stay sharp and focused especially as you get older.

Exercise benefits your brain in the same way it benefits the rest of your body.  It increases blood circulation, allowing for more oxygen and glucose to reach your brain.  The oxygen is necessary to keep the cells alive and the glucose is used as an energy source for your brain cells to munch on.  The increased need for oxygen causes you to breathe deeper and more often, getting your lungs in good shape.  Good circulation also means any waste can be taken away from your brain quicker.

While it might not be news that exercise is good for your mind, two new studies have recently been published that have helped to cement the notion that lifelong exercise can reduce the risk of both Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In one recent study, adults aged 45-88 were asked about their physical activity over the last 10 years.  They all then had a brain scan that detected the presence of a specific protein linked to Alzheimer’s.  The scans indicated that those who exercised had significantly fewer protein deposits than those who never exercised.  Some people naturally have more of the protein deposits due to their genes; those who exercised showed as little protein build-up as those who exercised and did not have this gene.

A similar study asked older participants about their level of mental activity at different ages, from childhood to adulthood.  They found that those who were mentally active throughout their life have fewer protein deposits that can lead to Alzheimer’s than those who did not consistently read, write, or play mentally challenging games.

For you brain to receive the benefit of exercise, it doesn’t even need to be strenuous.  Increased activity of at 30 minutes a day can make a difference by getting your heart pumping and keeping your brain supplied with fresh blood.  Low-impact activities such as walking, gardening, yoga, or bicycling are great if you’re not able to do the higher intensity exercise, such as running or aerobic classes.  Anything will help, so long as your heart starts pumping!

Physical exercise isn’t the only type of exercise to consider.  Mental exercises can also keep your mind stimulated and your brain cells engaged and working hard.  Different types of mental activities, such as reading, memorisation games, or even doing activities with your non-dominant hand all help you to exercise different part of your mind and keep you clearheaded and focused.

Like anything else, brain exercise is coupled with a brain diet.  The AARP recommends various foods that can be includeat well for the brained in your everyday diet to ward off Alzheimer’s and dementia.  These include olive oil, nuts, fish, poultry and veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and tomatoes.  Eating less red meat, butter and high fat dairy products also appears to have an impact on your brain health.

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Dr. Ralph Rogers

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Regenerative Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine

Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine

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