There is, a connection between the physical fitness work we do and the results we see in other areas. In short, we have known for some time that if you are physically healthier, you’re likely to be mentally healthier too. So it may not seem terribly surprising when we point out that it is possible to start exercising for brain health. However, when we talk about brain health, we are – in this case – not referring to conditions such as depression or anxiety.
There is another type of brain health that needs to be considered. And it is slowly but surely becoming more of a focus for health experts and lifestyle gurus alike. With ever more awareness being placed on the subject of dementia and similar illnesses, it is increasingly important to know the best ways to keep our brains in working order for longer. With studies into the impact of head trauma having emerged in recent years, we know a bit about the kind of exercise that should be limited. But what do we know about the ways of encouraging greater neurological health?
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Link Between Physical Health and Brain Health
By and large, when people talk about brain health and fitness in the modern day, they are referring – directly or tangentially – to dementia. Either as a result of Alzheimers’ Disease or some other cause. Very often, those causes will relate to, or have been aggravated by, lifestyle factors. It’s generally accepted that smoking and drinking are at best unhelpful for those who want to ensure their brain remains at its optimum working level as they age.
Not to put too fine a point on it, greater physical activity is certainly seen as an advantage in staving off mental and cognitive decline. And anyone who wishes to improve or maintain their brain health should take the opportunity to fit in some exercise where possible. A healthier lifestyle will have a beneficial impact that goes well beyond the physical side of things. You’ll notice this even if you don’t exercise any more than usual, but adopt a healthier diet. Treat your body right, and it will treat your brain right in return.
Healthier Brain through Exercise
As the number of studies into long-term brain health increases – there is still no cure for dementia. And finding one is going to require a lot of research. However, one thing becomes clear. Study after study shows that the risk of cognitive decline reduces massively if people fit into four or more of the five following categories:
- Those who take regular exercise
- People who do not drink alcohol, or who drink moderately
- Those who do not smoke
- People who eat healthily
- Those who have a healthy body weight
In fact, not only do those categories reduce your likelihood of progressive cognitive decline in later life, but fitting into them now can improve your cognitive performance in the short term too. It is speculated, with some justification, that each of these categories ensures that there is a healthier flow of blood to the brain. This allows for more efficient cell regeneration and healthier brain tissue. Given what is known about the way that dementia affects the brain, this would tally up. Because the ill-effects of that condition can be aggravated by proteins that attach to the neural pathways, affecting our memory, motivation and behaviors.
Can you get smarter by working out harder?
Naturally, it’s not an either-or thing; you do not need to choose between improving your cognitive performance today and having long-term brain health. Much better than that, it has a cumulative effect. If you work out today, look into workout supplements, and eat more healthily, it will help you mentally tomorrow, and for every other tomorrow you have between now and your autumn years.
This isn’t some kind of wild brain-hack. We aren’t going to exaggerate the impacts by suggesting that, with a little more time in the gym and a few more servings of vegetables, you’ll suddenly be able to recite the pledge of allegiance in a different language. But with some study, allied to the additional physical exercise, you will certainly find it easier to achieve tasks that require a higher level of mental cognition. The more you do, the better that will get.
What kind of exercise is recommended?
As has been suggested above, the importance of blood flow to cognitive performance is substantial. It makes a lot of sense, then, to note that in a range of studies, aerobic exercise has been shown to have impacts in staving off decline and improving cognitive performance. While stretching and toning are well worth a bit of time, it’s more important to get the blood pumping around your body. People who regularly fit in an aerobic workout, even for as short as one month, have shown improved results on cognitive testing compared with those simply adding muscle tone.
Of course, we wouldn’t recommend just working out for a month. Fit in regular 30-minute workouts – about five times a week is ideal – and the results will be pronounced. It is also worth bearing in mind that the more often you work out, the easier it will be to work out again. The same is true of each of those five factors above, so if it seems tough now, just rip off the Band-Aid and you’ll appreciate how much easier it is on the other side.
What if you can’t work out that often?
Of course, not everybody has the time, the space, the money or the physical freedoms to do 30 minutes of gym-quality working out five times a week. It would be unreasonable to expect that from everyone. And here, the advice is quite simple: any working out is better than none. The more you do, the better – but that’s true if you currently don’t do any aerobic exercise and start to go for a brisk walk on a regular basis, or even increase your activity around household chores such as cleaning and cooking.
The key to ensuring a stronger mind is that you balance physical exercise with mental workouts, so it is beneficial to have some means of giving your brain a challenge while you step up the physical activity. Brain gym apps are not hard to find, and each user will have their own opinions on where the best app can be found. You may prefer to have a more practical workout such as learning a language, or embarking on a course with a qualification at the end of it. One way or another, it is important to challenge your brain with something that gets those wheels turning.
What else can I do to boost brain health?
Along with the tips already given, it is important to remember that a healthy mind thrives best in a healthy body, and if something is beneficial for your physical fitness, it will probably have benefits for your cognitive health too. One clear example of this is when it comes to drinking water. Having a refillable bottle on hand, and sipping regularly from it, is a wise move for physical reasons – as we all already know. However, the signs are that it has direct benefits for cognitive health too.
If you have any doubt about this, then try upping your water intake the next time you’re feeling in any way sluggish. As the hydration continues its way around your system, you will notice the benefits more or less instantly. Drinking as many as eight glasses of water a day will have beneficial impacts for your health both mentally and physically. One caveat to add here is that you might be best advised to stick to bottled and filtered water, as the tap water in some areas is of a low enough quality to be a potential risk to cognitive health and other aspects of wellness.
Exercising for Brain Health
As time passes, we find out more and more about the ways that our brains work. Doing what we can to improve that function means paying attention to new information as it comes to light, so it is important not to rest on one’s laurels. The advice above is the best we have, currently, when it comes to improving and maintaining cognitive health in both the short and long term – but it’s wise to keep reading whenever the subject comes up.
As cognitive health is lost, it becomes harder to get back, so the best advice out there is to look after it while you’ve still got it. So make sure that you are eating right, drinking the ideal amount of water, and keeping up the best habits to get the results you need from your body and mind alike. And perhaps most importantly of all, if you have concerns about your cognitive health, discuss them with a doctor. Early detection of issues is still by some distance the most important factor in their successful treatment.
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