Researchers are still exploring the mysteries of the human brain, but as of today one of the best known ways to create new neurons (brain cells) is by doing an aerobic exercise that makes you sweat for 30 – 60 minutes. If you want maximum benefit, include short bursts of intense energy in your workouts.
Exercise has such a powerful effect on brain chemistry that doing it regularly can treat depression as effectively as antidepressants. And if you stick with it, it’s less likely that you’ll get depressed again.
The new brain cells you’re creating when you exercise aren’t any ‘ole brain cells either. These brain cells actually help improve memory. A report published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that seniors who exercised regularly had more gray matter (cell bodies that help control memory, speech and muscle control) and were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s within a five-year period.
As we age, our hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with memory and spatial navigation) shrinks. A University of Illinois and Rice University study found that just 1-year of moderate exercise reversed the shrinkage.
It can help short term memory too. Running, for example, gets more blood flowing to your brain and that in turn could make you think clearer. If you’ve ever had a stressful day and felt better after a work out, you know the feeling.
Of all the different forms of exercise, dance could be the best in terms of reducing your risk of dementia. A study done at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that reading, writing and doing puzzles reduced seniors’ risk of dementia by 47 percent, but Ballroom dancing reduced it by 67 percent.
Why not try it? Dancing could help you remember where your keys are for years to come. Plus, you get great legs.
Diet alone can’t get you to optimal health. You must get your blood flowing. Here are just a few of the health benefits associated with exercise:
it lowers blood pressure
it protects your heart
it reduces your risk of having a stroke
it helps you sleep
it gives you energy
it keeps your bones strong
it reduces your risk of developing cancer (especially colon and breast cancer)
it improves your heart and lung function
it reduces stress
it reduces appetite
it reduces the risk of developing back pain
it stimulates the growth of new blood vessels
it improves mood & self esteem
it might boost our imagination as well.
Mix it up
If you’re already working out, challenge yourself to do something new to help keep your brain and body engaged. There are so many options and many are free, so no excuses. You can…
take a ballet, hip-hop, jazz, ballroom or some other dance class
try kick boxing or actual boxing
take a barre class
find a free workout on Youtube
go to the gym
take a yoga class
try a hip hop class
watch a music video and try to do the choreography
take a Pilates class
swing a hula hoop
take a salsa class
take a swing class
buy some weights and work out at home
ride a bike
“A man’s health can be judged
by which he takes two at a time – pills or stairs”
– Joan Welsh
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine – “Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise”
Harvard Health Publications – “Exercise and Depression” Harvard Medical School, The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter – “Dancing and the Brain”
Quartz – “A neuroscientist says there’s a powerful benefit to exercise that is rarely discussed“
Huffpost Healthy Living – “This is what happens to your body when you exercise”
Mayo Clinic – “Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity”
Minn Post- “Exercise – of any kind – cuts risk of recurrent low back pain in half, study finds”
Healthline – ” Exercises to Eliminate Erectile Dysfunction”
WebMD – “Serotonin: 9 Questions and Answers”
New York Magazine – “How Neuroscientists Explain the Mind-Clearning Magic of Running”
Newsmax Health – “Dance Your Way to Health”
Psychology Today – “Regular Aerobic Exercise in Midlife Protects the Aging Brain”
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease- “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory”
Feature image (Nice, France) courtesy of Sherifx on Flickr @Creative Commons