Those who exercise regularly at a moderate pace have less of a risk of impaired cognitive function. Better yet, intense aerobic exercise helps those who already suffer from memory problems and mild cognitive impairment in as little as a few months.
Without intervention, 10-15% of people having cognitive difficulties develop dementia each year. Compare that to the 1-2% of the overall population that is diagnosed with dementia annually.
Exercise seems to protect brain health as well as overall health. It does so through multiple mechanisms, including increasing the development of new brain cells, releasing substances that protect nerve cells and increasing the brain’s blood flow.
Exercising regularly greatly increases the odds that you will live out your life in peak health and that your memory and brain function will remain high even as you age.
Without regular exercise, you increase the odds that your brain function will become sub-optimal and your memory will worsen. This could lead to your often feeling confused and ultimately, becoming unable to live independently. Fortunately, you have more control over your brain health than you might think. Just by taking up a regular exercise regimen, you can ensure your mind remains sound and that you feel great no matter what age you are.
How Exercise Affects Your Brain
Recent studies have added to the large amount of evidence that supports the positive role exercise plays in keeping a healthy brain. Moderate intensity exercise has been shown to decrease your risk of declining cognitive function by 39% when started around middle age. If you are a bit older than that, you can still drastically reduce the risk of cognitive impairment if you start an exercise program. According to the recent studies, starting exercising later in life decreased risk by 32%. Examples of moderate intensity exercise you can try are yoga, aerobics or dance classes or power walking.
If you’ve already noticed some memory loss, there’s still hope! Intense aerobic exercise done regularly can reverse memory loss and return some cognitive functioning. In addition to being extremely effective, exercise can be free and is much less likely to have side effects than medications.
A regular exercise program is vital to anyone who wants to be sure to remain independent and to retain a high level of brain function as they age. Cognitive difficulty and memory loss currently affect 20% of those over age 70. You may recognize the signs of cognitive problems and memory loss in someone you know: difficulties with memory, using language, using good judgment, reasoning abilities and speech.
While the risk of dementia is 1-2% of the population, that risk skyrockets to 10-15% among those that have slight cognitive impairment.
How Exercise Keeps Your Brain Young
Physical exercise doesn’t just make your body work harder- it makes your brain work harder, too. Pushing your mind to its limits signals your brain that it needs more brain power. So your brain incorporates new cells and connections to provide that. This continual regeneration, called neurogenesis, is the key to having an excellent memory and cognitive performance. Continuous regeneration also protects your brain cells from being damaged.
When you exercise, your brain cells release Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and other proteins. BDNF is associated with other substances that are known to improve health.
Exercise can even slow down Alzheimer’s disease. A regular program of physical activity may result in fewer plaques and beta-amyloid peptides, which are implicated in Alzheimer’s.
How to Exercise for Optimal Memory and Brain Health
The number one fact to remember when you set out to achieve your fitness goals is that your body adapts quickly. To get the most benefit from exercise, you have to constantly challenge yourself. Whenever an exercise becomes easy to do, you should push yourself a bit harder.
The ideal fitness plan to improve memory and increase cognitive functioning includes several different types of exercise.
Aerobic exercise is one important type to include. It increases your heart rate, bringing more blood- and therefore more oxygen and nutrients- to your brain. In addition to its many other benefits, aerobic exercise increases endorphins, which relieve pain and make you feel good. It also strengthens your immune system. Examples of aerobic exercise are swimming, biking or jogging.
Interval training, where you switch between moderate exercise and high-intensity exercise, is an excellent way to push your boundaries and get the most from your workouts. As mentioned earlier, more intense exercise produces greater effects on improving your memory and cognitive function. Other great reasons to try interval training are to decrease the amount of time you have to exercise, increase fat burning and make you stronger, faster (especially your heart!).
A well-rounded exercise program should include strength training exercises. You should do enough reps so that by the end, you can hardly lift the weight anymore. Increasing the amount of weight can help you achieve this, but be careful not to take on more than you can handle. You should be able to do at least five reps with your chosen weight. Focus on different muscle groups each time you strength train. That will give each group a couple days to recover afterward.
Exercises to strengthen your core are particularly important. This protects and strengthens your back and improves your balance. Some of the best types of exercise to improve core strength are yoga and pilates.
Keep motivated by reminding yourself of all the benefits you get from exercising regularly. You’ll improve your memory, sleep better, think faster, resist disease and illness, improve bone density, lose weight, improve mood, feel younger and have more energy. It’s one of the best investments you can make with your time.