Around the world, the number of people suffering from dementia is staggering: Researchers say that by 2050, more than 115 million people will suffer from a decline in their cognitive abilities that’s serious enough to interfere with everyday life.
For those who are focused on leading a healthy lifestyle, or those who desire to become more healthy, there’s promising news to continue, or start, a regular exercise program. By regularly engaging in moderate aerobic exercise, you may be able to slow down — or even reverse — memory loss related to aging. Researchers have found that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, part of your brain that helps form memories. Seniors can experience memory loss when the hippocampus shrinks. But research has found that just a year of engaging in moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, can increase hippocampus volume by 2 percent, helping reverse the age-associated size decreases by a year or two.
Two Ways That Exercise Boosts Your Brain
Exercise can aid your thinking and memory in two ways, researchers say: directly and indirectly. The direct benefits of exercise to your body spring from reductions in inflammation and insulin resistance, along with stimulation of brain chemicals that affect brain cells. Indirectly, exercise can help you sleep better and improve your mood, and it can lower anxiety and stress, which can contribute to or even cause impairments in your cognitive abilities.
What Can You Do to Get Moving?
So, how can you benefit from scientific findings about the ways in which regular exercise can help keep your brain fit as you age? The primary way is to get moving! If you’re not already exercising regularly, talk with your doctor about starting and about the best method of exercise for you. Most of the research on the brain benefits of exercise has involved walking — which works for most people — but scientists say other types of aerobic exercise likely provide similar benefits.
How Much Do You Need to Exercise?
A 2011 study looked at people who walked briskly for an hour twice each week — or 120 minutes of exercising at a moderate intensity. If you follow standard recommendations, you’d exercise 30 minutes most days, which amounts to a healthy 150 minutes per week. If you’re not quite ready for that much exercise, start with what you can safely do and work up gradually from there, with your doctor’s blessing. And if you can’t or don’t care to engage in walking, consider other activities like swimming, tennis or even dancing. Remember that household chores that get your heart pumping count as well: If you intensely rake leaves or sweep the patio, count those minutes toward your weekly total.
To Get Active, Get Social
If you don’t enjoy exercising on your own, consider joining a class or recruiting a friend to work out with you. And if you’re interested in maintaining an overall healthy, vibrant lifestyle, consider a move to a senior living community like The Overlook, where you’ll have access to numerous classes, a fitness gym, and personal training in the Health & Wellness Center as well as a 450-acre campus crisscrossed with walking and cross-country ski trails.
However you prefer to get your exercise, just be sure to do it on a regular basis to reap the benefits for your brain!