It turns out that exercise is good for more than just looking good in a bathing suit and fighting off heart disease. Research shows it is significantly important for our brain health. In an era where Alzheimer’s is growing at an alarming rate any thing that we can do to help our brain health is not only advisable but also essential.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association findings for 2017 more than 5.5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and that number is growing rapidly. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and 1in 3 seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Since 2000 deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14 % while deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 89%! In addition it kills more than breast cancer and prostrate cancer combined.
So how does exercise help your brain? Initially we believed that our brains were static with little ability to change but now we know that the brain has neuroplasticity, which means that the brain has the ability to create new neurological patterns. It creates these new neurons and patterns through a process called neurogenesis. Dr. Gage at the Salk institute for Biological Studies along with a multitude of other studies has shown that through increased blood flow to the brain through exercise triggers biomechanical changes that spur neuroplasticity and generates new brain cells even in the aging brain.
The significance of this is that we have the ability to consciously and purposely have an effect on our brains ability to create these new neurons. Thus far the research has primarily been proven with aerobic exercises and to date it has been unclear whether anaerobic resistance training has the same effect. It turns out that as little as three hours of brisk walking a week has been shown to halt and even reverse the brain atrophy that starts somewhere in our forties. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and higher cognition.
We all know that exercise is helpful in many other ways aside from creating neurogenesis in our brain. Exercise lowers blood pressure, maintains cardiovascular health, increases muscle mass and has been helpful in addressing depression as well as many other issues. My hope for each of us is to age gracefully and enjoy all of life we can. To that end I encourage you to get up, get moving and stay smart.