What do you find helps you to keep active? Gardening, painting, yoga, walking, dancing….. what else? It doesn’t need to be complicated. I think it’s more important that we enjoy the satisfaction after that we have ‘done something’.
Increasing evidence suggests that exercise can protect your brain as you age, from helping with midlife forgetfulness to combating dementia. But not all exercise is created equal: so what’s worth focusing on?
First, almost anything is better than nothing. Exercise generates a protein called cathepsin B in the muscles, which is required for neurogenesis – the formation of new brain cells – as well as maintaining existing cells and creating connections between them.
Many forms of exercise seem to simply increase blood flow to the brain, which comes with myriad benefits. Most of these effects occur, at some level, with any kind of physical activity, which means, cheeringly, that if there’s something you enjoy doing, you should keep doing it.
If you’re looking to improve your regime, though, there are certainly some easy wins. The simplest is walking: one study found that when older adults at risk of dementia started walking frequently they saw a significant increase in healthy blood flow to the region of their brains associated with memory, as well as improved performance in memory tests.
If you’re more into weights, that still works – especially as you age. Six months of strength training can help to protect brain areas especially vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease up to one year later
The brain health exercise prescription in brief, then? Walk as much as you can, and cycle or run occasionally if possible – if that’s out of the question, try to get out of breath from time to time by briskly climbing a flight of stairs or doing some heavy lifting in the garden. Add some resistance training to your week – even if you only do them at home, weights are ideal, especially if you’re pushing yourself a bit as you do a few exercises. Finally, try to regularly learn new sports or movements that test your co-ordination – whether that’s yoga, yachting or unicycling!
The important thing is to remember that, while the bodily changes you see are a nice immediate effect, the benefits to your brain are likely to last a lifetime.
Joel Snape – Health Writer