No doubt about it, physical exercise is a winner for your brain health.
But are there brain protecting benefits and if so what’s the right exercises to help you support brain health for life?
In this article we cover:
We’ve all seen the commercial “Compare the Difference”
It’s superannuation ad that compares two workers super funds.
One worker invests with a super fund the other invests in an “standard” super program.
The proposed difference between the two is $100,000s across a person’s lifetime.
The same goes for exercise.
Let’s take the scenario of two people and what are the brain health benefits of exercise
You can’t grow new neurons ( working units). It was an accepted fact that when you became an adult – that was it.
No more for you.
Well that was the 90s.
Enter the 2000s, evidence grew that, yes – you can grow new neurons. Not only that neurons can adapt and grow new connections.
In the mid 90s scientists reported that running mice on a wheel led to the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus. This is an important brain structure for memory.
Hold on. It gets better.
Nowadays, it’s clear exercise improves your brain.
So Person B misses out on all these benefits.
Not yet convinced about the cognitive benefits of exercise, then read on.
A study from Colombia University followed a small group of middle-aged people who had been exercising about an hour a day, four times a week, for three months.
The study reports that these individuals were able to grow and maintain new neurons in the dentate gyrus ( part of the hippocampus involved in memory and learning ) at a 2-3 times rate that those who didn’t exercise.
It’s like building new highways between far away cities 2 to 3 times faster.
Physical exercise and activity may be important in reducing dementia risk at any age.
In this 2019 study researchers followed older adults who completed physical and cognitive tests each year for 20 years and then donated their brains for the study when they died.
During their life they were given accelerometers which monitored their physical activity day in day out.
Here’s what they found
But what about a person who is living with a neurological condition?
In another study, comparing people with Mild Cognitive Impairment. One group received a heart healthy diet only, another group of people received “health education” only and lastly a third group who received the same heart healthy diet, health education AND completed aerobic exercise 3 times per week for 45min.
Compared to diet alone or education alone, it was those who combined exercise and the heart healthy diet improved with changes in executive functions ( skills like planning, problem-solving and multitasking).
There was a noticeable additive benefit of “stacking” these lifestyle changes for your brain health with exercises being on benefit in this study. (Blumental et al, 2019)
Exercise is also critical for people living with a neurological condition
Ok, so the next question is “What Type of Exercise Is Best For Overall Brain Health”
According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.
Exercise won’t make a 77 year old brain be 30, it won’t cure neurodegenerative conditions but it can add improved quality of life and help tackle some of the cognitive challenges that come with complex health situations.
If you’ve not exercised for some time, not sure of your fitness level and the concept of building an exercise routine is foreign, be sure to get checked out by your GP first. After that connect with a suitable health professional to help you get all the mental and physical health benefits that exercise can help you with.
At OT Brisbane for the last 6 years David Norris has been teaching and supporting people to reduce their risk for cognitive decline.
To see the Australian National Universities’ pilot study results isn’t surprising but highly encouraging to have growing Australian evidence also showing that diet, exercise and targeted cognitive exercises can reduce a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease and improve cognitive health in the short term.
The key finding that stood out is the specialised coaching support to help people achieve these results.
The ANU’s pilot study tracked people aged 65 years or older, and who’d already experienced some decline in their memory.
Half the group had specialist brain health coaching support and it was these people who demonstrated the most improvement.
If you’re looking to design a lifestyle program to help you live better with your neurological condition, to reduce your risk for cognitive decline you might be interested in our Memory Health For Life Program.
If so, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at 1300 783 200 or via using the form below.
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