Exercise has long been known to improve emotional health by reducing stress and releasing feel-good endorphins. It also supports the physical well-being of your brain, which lowers your risk for cognitive decline and slows the progression of memory loss.
How Exercise Benefits Your Brain
Aging can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia, but getting regular aerobic exercise can mitigate the cognitive effects of the aging process. Your physical and cognitive well-being are closely linked, so addressing the health of one also improves the other.
Physical activity supports cardiovascular health and increases blood flow to your brain, both of which are essential to reducing neural inflammation. The more blood flow you get to your brain, the more nutrients it gets, making it easier to build synapses and maintain communication among its cortexes.
Can it Lower Your Risk for Dementia?
Aging increases the risk of several factors associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s, including:
- A build-up of amyloid plaques
- Slower glucose breakdown
- Shrinking of the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain
- A decline in cognitive function
A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health suggested aerobic exercise improved glucose breakdown in neurons. At the conclusion of the study, the participants who exercised more had a better glucose metabolism and higher cognitive test results. At Kemper Cognitive Wellness, we suggest at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week to increase your heart rate to a healthy level.
Exercise also increases the thickness of the cerebral cortex – which controls your muscle movements – and improves the nerve fibers that connect different areas of your brain to its neuron-rich gray matter.
During physical activity, your muscle tissues release irisin, a hormone that regulates weight loss. Because obesity contributes to your risk of dementia, improving your irisin levels may help curb the negative effects of excess weight.
When you partake in regular exercise, you’ll build up the physicality of the areas of your brain associated with memory formation and learning. Exercise also promotes neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to adapt and form new neural connections.
What You Can Do
- Get active: The World Health Organization recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. But studies have proven that even light aerobic activity can have immediate and long-lasting effects on your brain health. Get your heart pumping by taking a brisk walk, jogging, riding your bicycle or swimming laps.
- Keep your mind engaged: Exercises that incorporate mental stimulation offer a two-fold benefit to your cognitive health. Gardening, dancing and golfing are a few activities that require you to learn and problem-solve while you’re exercising. Learning a new sport is another great way to treat your body and brain to a workout.
- Stay social: Make exercising a group event by inviting friends and family to accompany you on your fitness journey. Socializing reduces isolation, so including others in your workout routine can lower your risk of depression.
- Work your brain and your body: Multi-model exercise is key. That includes body movements and cognitive challenges to optimize brain stimulation during physical activity. It can reduce the effects of cognitive degenerative diseases and the natural aging process.
Kemper House Worthington is committed to providing a well-rounded approach to reducing the effects of memory loss and cognitive decline. We offer fitness programs and physical activities to keep our residents engaged so you can be sure your loved one has the best chance at managing their condition. Contact us online or call 614-681-8330 to schedule a tour.