By Supriya Venigalla, MD
Everyone knows that exercising is a really good thing for the body. It helps with weight loss, prevents diabetes, lowers your blood pressure, and generally makes you look better. But did you know that regular exercise also helps you stay smart?
Studies done at The University of Texas at Dallas, and at the University of British Columbia have found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets you sweaty and your heart pumping, increases blood flow to the brain. This results in production of new connections between neurons and generation of new brain cells, even in an aging brain. Older adults often complain of decrease in mental efficiency and memory and staying mentally sharp is a major concern. Developing Alzheimer’s disease is a major cause for anxiety. Aerobic exercise for one hour, three times a week, for 12 weeks has shown increase in brain blood flow to the hippocampus, the key brain region affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Starting an exercise program early in life has also been shown as an effective way to lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life.
So what exercise regimen should you follow? Half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or 150 minutes a week, is the recommended amount of time. If this seems too daunting, starting slow is a good idea. Start with a few minutes a day, and gradually increase the time until you reach your goal. If walking isn’t your cup of tea, other exercises like swimming, tennis, dancing, and even intense household activities will help you stay fit mentally and physically.
If staying motivated is a challenge, enlist the help of a friend. Join a class, and tracking your progress towards a goal on Walk Georgia. Even hiring a personal trainer for a limited amount of time can help you stay disciplined for an extended amount of time.
The very fact that we can alter brain structure and activity by simply exercising is an inspiration to get moving, at any age.