JODY HOLTON — Exercise for good brain health
We know that regular exercise is good for our bones and muscles. Let’s explore the positive aspects of exercise on our brains. Can exercise prevent memory loss and improve cognitive function? Possibly.
Exercise has many known benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, strengthening the bones and muscles, keeping joints flexible and reducing stress.
It also appears that regular physical activity benefits the brain. Studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercising several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes may:
- Keep thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
- Improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment
- Delay the start of Alzheimer’s for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease.
Physical activity seems to help the brain not only by keeping your blood flowing but also by increasing chemicals that protect the brain. Physical activity also tends to counter some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occurs with aging.
More research is needed to know to what degree adding physical activity improves memory or slows the progression of cognitive decline. Nonetheless, regular exercise is important to stay physically and mentally fit.
Most studies so far have focused on the importance of physical activity before you develop Alzheimer’s. But can it treat the disease once you are diagnosed? Two studies hint that may be the case.
At the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, scientists reported some encouraging news about the benefits of exercise. In the first studies to look at physical activity among people already diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, moderate to high intensity workouts may not only slow down the biological symptoms of Alzheimer’s—but may lead to improvements in cognitive functions as well.
It was found that test subjects with milder disease who exercised at a moderate to intense level actually did perform better on intellectual skills after the 16 weeks. They were tested on memory, language, mental speed and other executive functions.
Aerobic exercise significantly increased blood flow in the memory and processing centers of participant’s brains, with a corresponding improvement in attention, planning, and organizing abilities referred to as “executive function”.
What is the short answer? Three separate studies have shown that regular exercise not only does help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. If a person has been diagnosed and is in the early stages, it can certainly be an effective form of treatment as well. Stay active and stay healthy, my friends.
Jody Holton writes about health for The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.