One, two, three…exercise!

There are plenty of good reasons to be physically active. Big ones include reducing the odds of getting heart disease, a stroke, or diabetes. These are huge concerns!

But there’s more: maybe you want to shed some weight, lower your blood pressure, escape a mild depression, or just look better. And…especially for those of us (including me) noticing the brain fog that comes with age: exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and cognition.

At the University of British Columbia, researchers found that the type of exercise that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping will boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain region involved in verbal memory and learning.

Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. Include me out of that statistic, please!

Exercise and your brain

Exercise helps memory and thinking both directly and indirectly. Directly, exercise reduces insulin resistance,  (think diabetes) reduces inflammation (think Alzheimer’s), and stimulates the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, and the growth of new blood vessels and neurons in the brain.

Indirectly, exercise helps your mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Mess-ups in these areas frequently cause or contribute to impaired thinking skills.

Many studies have shown that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise compared to people who don’t.

Do it

So what should you do? Start exercising!  Almost all of the research has looked at walking. But, also: “It’s likely that other forms of aerobic exercise that get your heart pumping might yield similar benefits,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis of Harvard.

How much exercise is required to improve memory? Try walking briskly for one hour, twice a week. That’s 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.

Standard recommendations advise half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or 150 minutes a week. If that seems distressing to contemplate, start with a just a few minutes a day, and increase the amount you exercise by five minutes every week until…shazam!…you are at the magical half hour per day. If you start at 5 minutes a day, that will only take about a month! Easy-peasy.

If you don’t want to walk, what about other moderate-intensity exercises, like swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash, or even dancing or zumba? Remember, too, that household chores can count:  intense floor mopping, raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat. Just push it up a notch, and you have an aerobic exercise. The way to tell that you are “moderately” exercising and not just “lightly”? You will notice that your breathing is a bit faster and deeper. If you do that, kudos to you, you are in the longevity club, my friend!

Don’t have the “willpower” to do it all by yourself? Try  these ideas:

Join a class or work out with a friend who’ll hold you accountable…or even text or email a friend every day about your progress.
Track your activity and measure your progress, which helps you to reach a goal.
To be even more accountable, just hire a personal trainer. (Paying someone is always good motivation.)

Whatever exercise and motivators you choose, decide today that you want exercise as a habit, almost like taking a prescription pill. After all, exercise is medicine, right? Good for you for reaching the end of this post! That means you have enough commitment already to take the next baby step. Within the next five minutes, do a few pushups, sit-ups, or wall pushups. Go to YouTube and type “Exercise Routines.” You’ve begun!

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