Exercise improves memory and thinking skills

Side View Of Senior Couple Power Walking Through Park

Image: monkeybusinessimages/Bigstock.com

Dementia is one of the great fears of ageing. And there’s no way of knowing if you will suffer it before it gets you. Currently, there’s one new case of dementia detected every four seconds globally. At this rate, there’ll be more than 115 million sufferers worldwide by 2050.

Heidi Godman, the executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter, says that exercise may be a key help for us. She writes of a report that finds that ‘exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills’.

‘In a study done at the University of British Columbia,’ says Godman, ‘researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance, and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results’.

Aerobic exercise

How aerobic exercise gets your heart, muscles, and lungs working hard is less important than making sure it happens. It doesn’t have to be too strenuous—the exercise involved in this study was walking. Those involved walked briskly for an hour two times a week.

Keep in mind, though, that the recommendation for walking is to do half an hour every day.

And aerobic exercise doesn’t have to be walking. Here’s a shortlist to work from: swimming; aquarobics; cycling; rowing; boxing; gym classes that include a mix of exercises; team sports; and others you may think of. There’s a whole raft of options.

The advantages

‘Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means,’ says Godman.

‘The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells’.

Another study reinforced this by demonstrating that what the researchers called Leisure-Time Physical Activity (LTPA) is also ‘protective against incident dementia’. In contrast, ‘a low level of LTPA is independently associated with greater decline in cognitive performance over time across domains’.

This research signals that there is a way of decreasing that risk—it comes back to: healthy body, healthier mind. And the probability is that the earlier you begin the healthy body part, the better the chance of the healthier mind.

Both are good for retirement.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

Category: Brain Health, Physical Health

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