Everyone knows that regular physical activity helps keep your body healthy and in shape. Exercise strengthens a person’s heart, lungs, and muscles, keeping them in prime working order and staving off the effects of aging. But what about your brain? Does it need exercise too?
Why yes, it does. It turns out that there’s a correlation between keeping the body active and keeping the mind sharp. While it was once thought that a person was born with all the brain cells that he/she would ever have, research has found that new brain cells can grow. Physical activity increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is known to not only assist in protecting and repairing brain cells but also helps grow new brain cells.
Aerobic exercise, such as running and swimming, appears to be the best brain-health exercises as they increase a person’s heart rate, which in turn causes the body to pump more blood and oxygen to the brain.
Notes Joe Northey from his study at the University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise in Australia,
“Considering exercise can also reduce the risks associated with common lifestyle diseases that impact the brain, such as high blood sugar and hypertension, it is further motivation to try to incorporate exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.”
Mental engagement, such as learning something new, and social interaction, like connecting with friends and family, are also keys in maintaining healthy brain function.
“Cognitive and social engagement have been shown to be protective against cognitive decline, whereas hearing loss, depression, and social isolation are associated with cognitive decline,” says Dr. Kathryn Papp, a neuropsychologist, and instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
As we age, it’s easy to fall into a comfy sort of rut, doing what we’ve always done and doing it the same way we’ve always done it. But consider how changing things up even a little can have a beneficial impact on your brain. Brushing your teeth with the other hand, taking a different route to work or a new jogging path, or listening to a different type of music all make the brain work. Learn a new word each day and incorporate it into your vocabulary.
Take a more significant step and learn a new language or sign-up for that class or course you’ve always wanted to take. Or finally, put all those insights down on paper. Writing articles, blogs, or merely keeping a journal also enhances brain function.
Create a triple brain pleaser by meshing mental stimulation, physical activity, and social interaction. Take up a new sport. Learn to dance. Volunteer at the neighborhood rec center. Do something you never dreamed you’d have the gumption to try.
Any number of things can offer your brain a challenge that will better your brain function. Mix up your brain-boosting activities to get the most bang for your buck and give your brainpower a long-term boost.
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