Keeping the brain functioning at its best is important for people of all ages. For mature adults, it becomes essential. The majority of people over 60 reports that they have experienced some level of decline in their cognitive abilities. Whereas most people know the benefits of brain exercises, quality sleep and new experiences in keeping the brain agile, fewer understand that physical activity can contribute greatly. Here are exercises that will help you keep fit both physically and mentally.
It is common knowledge that aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and increases blood flow to the brain. Anytime you increase the volume of blood available to the brain, you will experience improvements in brain health due to improved access to oxygen and energy. The brain requires high levels of energy to function at its best and complete the complex tasks of processing and directing information. You may be surprised to find that of all the organs in the body, the brain needs the most energy. Fully 20% of all the energy in your body is used in brain functions.
A lesser-known benefit of this type of physical conditioning is that it helps the brain to manufacture new brain cells. Aerobic exercise stimulates the release of growth facture proteins which support the creation of new brain cells and the formation of new neural pathways.
Any exercise that raises your heart rate can be considered an aerobic activity. You can take part in dedicated aerobic classes, but if that isn’t appealing to you, activities such as dancing, playing tennis, old-fashioned calisthenics, walking and swimming are all excellent choices.
Strength training helps aging adults avoid injuries and maintain the ability to live independent lives. It also has a particular benefit for keeping them mentally fit. Unlike aerobic exercise, strength training creates a fluctuating surge of blood to the brain, cycling between high flow and low flow. This appears to benefit a particular part of the brain called the hippocampus. This small section of the brain that sits near the base of the skull is responsible for memory and the retention of new information. These are functions of particular interest to older adults.
You can use a classic weight lifting routine to add strength training to your fitness routine. For those who may be concerned with potential injuries, weight training doesn’t have to use free weights; it can utilize weighted machines as well.
Another great alternative would be bodyweight exercises. Bodyweight routines don’t require any equipment other than your own frame and reduce the risk of equipment-related injuries. They are a good choice for those who don’t wish to go to a gym or fitness studio for their workout.
A third option would be resistance training using exercise bands or cords. These inexpensive tools can offer the benefits of weights but can be tailored to those with less initial physical strength. They also tend to be easier on the joints than free weights or machines.
Exercise that improves coordination and balance can help older people to avoid some of the most common injuries that occur due to falls, but they also have important brain benefits as well. Wellandgood.com states that exercises that require the brain to coordinate movement and plan ahead are effective at increasing brain plasticity; that is the ability to adjust and be mentally flexible.
Some of the best choices for coordination and balance include pilates and yoga. Both of these types of exercises demand focus and attention as the body must make constant, subtle adjustments to maintain balance. Tai chi is another good choice. The added benefit of these workouts is that they are low impact and do not place undue stress on the joints.
Growing evidence that fitness routines are not only good for the body but also for the brain should encourage people, both young and old, to begin a regular exercise practice. The right exercise can improve your strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and your brain function.