Huffing, puffing and pushing, I sprint across my imaginary finish line exhausted, but exhilarated. I dislike running, but it was necessary rehab for a knee injury. I ran to strengthen my knee I also knew it would strengthen my mind. Physical exercise not only helps our bodies, but also our minds.
Wrapping up this month of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness, I’d be remiss in not discussing the importance of physical exercise to brain wellness. There is a plethora of research on physical exercise and memory/brain health. One thing is for sure: for a healthy body and mind-we need to get moving-literally.
Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is any exercise that increases and sustains heart rate over a period of time, thus increasing oxygen distribution throughout the body-including the brain. As I write this and you read this, our heart is pumping oxygen rich blood throughout our body. But when we increase that heartrate with exercise, more oxygen and nutrients are delivered. The increased oxygen and nutrients from the exercise fuels our brain cells to grow and thrive.
Numerous research studies have shown those who exercise not only maintain better physical health, but brain health as well. Aerobic exercise has been shown to physically increase the size of the hippocampal memory center, improving spatial and motor memory. Individuals who exercised after having a stroke gained and sustained significant improvements in memory, language, thinking and judgement as well as the executive function skills of attention, concentration, planning and organizing. A more recent study suggests any activity that gets you moving can be beneficial to brain health.
Physical benefits of exercise include an increased metabolism, improved mood, lower blood pressure and heart rate. All of these are beneficial in reducing our risk of heart disease and stroke and can assist in maintaining better control over chronic and/or brain degenerative diseases. Understanding all the implications and benefits of physical exercise, we would be foolish not to include this into our everyday routine.
Incorporate increased activities and exercise into your daily life. You don’t have to run. Instead, park further away, take the steps or the long way to your destination. Schedule exercise into your day and keep the appointment. Get up off the couch and go for a brisk walk. Exercise will benefit your mind and body no matter your age or ability.
Whatever your physical ability level, check with your doctor and get moving. You will not only strengthen your body but also your mind.