Can Exercise Keep You Mentally Sharp?
Melissa Tennen, HealthAtoZ writer
Exercise may be the best wonder drug of them all - maintaining not just your body, but your mind as well.
Scientists are finding that exercise actually may help prevent mental decline as we age. Regular exercise may enhance memory, planning and organization skills, as well as the ability to juggle mental tasks.
Researchers believe regular exercise - for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week - can help keep your brain sharp. Exercise improves how well the body can pump blood to the brain, helping it perform better. Scientists speculate that activity stimulates the growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in memory.
Another positive effect deals with lowering blood pressure. This is important to most adults, particularly as they age. In fact, most elderly people do have high blood pressure. Those with uncontrolled high blood pressure are more likely to have trouble thinking, remembering and learning.
Activity can also help with depression, a common problem among the elderly. Depression can affect memory and concentration. Exercise helps relieve feelings of depression by increasing blood flow and improving how the brain handles the chemicals that are responsible for mood.
You can't beat exercise. Not only can it help your brain, it can also keep your muscles and joints strong - all important for helping prevent falls, dealing with arthritis, strengthening your heart, improving your energy levels, and warding off health problems such as diabetes and certain cancers. Even if you have lived a sedentary life up until now, you can still limber up to help keep your brain - and your body - in shape.
First, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise. Together, you can choose a routine that is safe for you.
- Get at least 30 minutes of activity - most or all days of the week - that makes you breathe harder. You can break up those 30 minutes throughout your day by taking a 10- or 15-minute walk in the morning, another at lunch and a third in the evening. To tell if you aren't working hard enough, give yourself the "talk test." If you can talk without any effort, you aren't working out hard enough. If you can't talk at all, you are pushing too hard.
- Don't neglect your muscles. If you don't use them, you'll lose them. Strong muscles help you with numerous everyday tasks such as grocery-carrying and having the ability to get out of your chair on your own.
- Work on your balance. Stand on one foot, then the other. Try not to hold onto anything for support. Stand up from sitting in a chair without using your hands or arms. Every now and then, walk heel-to-toe.
- Be sure to stretch. This can help prevent back pain and helps you remain limber.