The Link Between Cognitive Health and Exercise

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. It’s an old adage, but it holds true to this day. Diet can help you keep your health well into your old age. But, is diet alone enough? Exercise, while quite hard to do at times, can help improve many aspects of your health. One of those aspects is cognitive health.

For seniors, cognitive health tends to be one of those areas that generate a lot of worry. People are rightfully anxious over things like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and so on. So, anywhere seniors can improve cognitive health might be a good place to start alleviating those worries. Exercise might be one avenue for doing just this.

How Does Exercise Help?

According to recent studies, those who exercise regularly have a significantly lower risk of things like dementia and cognitive impairment. Great news for those of us who have been doing our water aerobics! Bad news for those who may have caught a little too many episodes of their favorite program.

So, how does exercise cause such a lower risk of cognitive decline? Is it somehow linked to how well your blood flows when you take a brisk walk or is it something more complicated?

Well, as it turns out, the benefits come in multiple forms. So, put on your learning caps, and let’s dive into it a little bit.

Heart Rate

Your brain loves blood. This is one thing scientists have discovered by studying the brain. Blood acts like a delivery system for oxygen, transporting it all around the body so that your organs can make good use of it. And the most important of those organs, the one that really loves that precious oxygen, is your brain.

When you exercise, your heart rate increases. This means more blood flows to your brain, and your brain has more oxygen at its disposal. Giving your body the activity it needs to transport blood around the body could really be essential to brain health, just like eating is essential for getting nutrients.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Our bodies were not made to stay sedentary all day long. When humanity started out, we were hunters and gatherers, so it makes sense that we’d have brains that benefit from a little bit of jogging.

Stimulating Growth

When you exercise, you stimulate growth in a lot of areas. For example- those who lift weights might notice their muscles starting to grow. Those who run may notice their legs becoming more toned. And all of us notice our confidence grow as we feel more in control.

But could exercising stimulate growth in more than just your muscles? As it turns out, it can. When you exercise, the connections between your brain cells (which relay messages back and forth throughout your brain) grow. This reinforces your brain’s ability to communicate with itself, retrieve memories, and solve unique problems.

So, if you’re looking for a way to keep your brain robust, you might try a few simple jumping jacks or a walk around the park.

Runner’s High

Finally, if you’re feeling down, you probably have a few ways you try to cheer yourself up. This might involve a good, homey meal, a bowl full of ice cream, or even a good book and a blanket. But sometimes these aren’t quite enough.

When you run out of options for chasing away the blues, you might try running from them. As it turns out, the same chemicals people get when they talk about having a runner’s high can also make you less depressed.

If you’ve been feeling down, a little exercise may be just what your body needs as a little pick-me-up. We’re not guaranteeing anything, but it seems to be that those who exercise see real mood benefits.

Good Exercises for Cognitive Health

When we’re talking about brain health, we’re talking about getting your blood flowing. As we said, the brain uses oxygen like a knitter might use a pair of needles and a ball of yarn. So, to get your brain doing what it does best, we’re going to have to get it some blood.

Any exercise that benefits your heart will also end up benefitting your brain. Aerobic exercises are great for this, as they up your heart rate like nothing else. Think jogging, going on a walk, doing jumping jacks, and swimming.

In general, if you’re feeling out of breath after you’re done, you’ve found an exercise that’s likely to benefit your cognitive health. Here are a few suggestions for those looking to start today:

Jogging- If you’re able, try jogging for just a few minutes. It’s a great way to get out and keep an eye on your health.

Swimming- Swimming takes a lot of energy, and gets your blood flowing.

Indoor Aerobics- If none of these appeal to you, simple jumping jacks or running in place might do the trick.

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