A recent study published in the New York Times found that exercise might increase the brain’s flexibility. Yet another reason in a long list supporting the health benefits of physical activity as we age. Not convinced? Here are our top 5 reasons why you need to prioritize exercise.
- Get out of your comfort zone: Trying something new, like a community Zumba class, or developing a new skillset, like boxing or rock-climbing, helps keep your brain stimulated. As you exercise your body, you’ll also be exercising your mind.
- Manage your weight: Another added benefit of exercise? Dropping excess pounds. Staying within a healthy weight range can help stave off a myriad of health conditions – like hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Maintain your healthy brain: Grow your brain along with your muscles – regular exercise can encourage the growth of new brain cells and connections. Overall physical health is closely linked to brain health, so a healthy body is key to a healthy brain.
- Keep your social life buzzing: Physical activity often goes hand in hand with group activities – aerobics class at the gym, dance lessons, weekly tai chi sessions in the part. Even walking dates with friends are a great way to stay active and stay connected.
- Show what you can do: When you started, you could barely jog to the mailbox. Now you can make it around the block without taking a break. Exercise shows us what we’re capable of – often beyond our own expectations. Setting, and reaching, new goals is a great way to stay motivated.
What’s your favorite benefit of exercising?
What’s the most important thing we can do to maintain brain health as we age? According to a new study, it’s not one thing but a combination of several things that may help slow cognitive decline in older adults.
A recent study was done over three years with nearly 1,700 older adults who had mildmemory complaints, slow walking speed, and other daily living limitations. The study participants were randomized into four groups, each with a different regimen to follow. The group who were assigned nutritional counselling, exercise, social and cognitive stimulation along with DHA supplements showed positive results. Even the participants in this group who had a low baseline DHA showed significant results.
The study results reinforce what we already know. The Four Dimensions of Brain Health – a healthy diet, mental engagement, physical activity and social engagement are essential to maintaining our brain health. “The MAPT study shows us that we have some influence in helping to maintain brain health,” says Elizabeth Somer, nutritionist and author. “Lifestyle changes, like making sure you’re eating the right foods and being active for thirty minutes daily, can have a big impact on brain health.”
DHA is an essential nutrient for brain health but most of us don’t get nearly enough through diet, says Somer. “97% of the omega-3s in the brain are DHA, so it’s no wonder the study found that DHA supplementation can support a healthy brain,” she says. “Aim for a supplement that has at least 200mg DHA.”
How do you take care of your brain health?
As the temperatures cool down (goodbye summer, see you next year!), the sun may be shining a little less brightly, but that doesn’t mean you should pack your shades away. Maintaining healthy eyes and vision is a year-round job.
5 ways to keep your eyes healthy throughout the year:
- Wear sunglasses: Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to vision issues, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Look for sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB radiation and that screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. If you do winter sports or will be spending a lot of time outdoors, consider polarized lenses which offer additional protection from the sun’s glare.
- Hydrate: Keep dry eyes at bay by drinking lots of water. If you’re going to be losing water (i.e. sweating), add in additional water to replenish your body. Keep a refillable bottle of water nearby throughout the day to remind you to drink up.
- Wear protective eyewear: Don’t underestimate the potential for eye injury in everyday activities. Sharp tools, flying dust, harsh chemicals – all can be hazardous to your eye health. If you’re doing basic home repairs or intensive cleaning, don a pair of safety goggles. You can pick them up at many eyewear and sporting goods stores.
- Eat well: We shared Vitamins in Motion’s infographic on nutrition for eye health in our last post. In a nutshell, look for nutrient-packed fruits and veggies and healthy fats to keep your eyes bright, shiny, and healthy. Lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins A, C and E and omega-3 fatty acids are eye-health superstars.
- Limit screen time: Today, screens are everywhere, not just on our desktop computer. Tapping out an email on your smartphone, watching a movie on your tablet – too much time in front of a screen can cause eyestrain. To prevent this, follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take your eyes off your computer and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. If you can, take a quick walk during this time.
How do you keep your eyes healthy?
Some years, winter can seem endless. Between the cold temperatures, the early sundowns and (depending on where you live) the snow, it can be tempting to hide your sneakers in the back of the closet and vow to get back to a routine come spring.
Don’t give into temptation! While it seems counterintuitive, getting up and moving will not only make you feel better, it will give your more energy. So get off the couch and try one of these indoor exercise activities this winter:
- Bowling: According to The Bowling Foundation, more than 25 percent of Americans bowl each year. There is a reason this sport remains popular – it’s fun! In addition to the health benefits, there is the added bonus of social interaction. Research seniors bowling leagues in your area, or make your own.
- Swimming: The best part of indoor swimming pools? They are warm year-round. Swimming is a great way to get cardiovascular exercise that is gentle on your joints. In addition to laps, many pools offer classes like Aquafit or even AquaSpin, where you can ride a stationary bike in the water.
- Video games: To cold to venture outdoors, even to the car? Get fit in your living room. Many video game consoles, like Playstation and Xbox, offer fitness games along with sports games like tennis and golf. Improve your swing before spring!
- Mall Walks: Get the stimulation and people-watching of a neighbourhood stroll while enjoying the temperate environment at your local shopping mall. Check to see if your mall has a walking program – some open the doors early in the morning for walkers and offer group walking programs.
- Dance class: Shake off the winter blahs by taking a fun dance class. You can find a class that matches your interest and skill level – from ballroom dancing to Zumba to hip hop. An added health benefit: studies have shown that dancing can improve balance and walking speed and may decrease risks for falling.
What’s your favorite way to get active in winter?
Fall is the perfect time to get active outdoors; not too hot and not too cold, the weather is just right. Here are five ideas for making exercise fun this autumn:
- Leaf Walk or Jog: The changing colors of fall foliage provide gorgeous scenery for a brisk stroll or jog. Check out a local park, trail or your own tree-lined neighbourhood.
- Sign up for an outdoor boot camp: Challenge yourself with a new workout in a group setting. You’ll gain benefits from both the exercise and the social interaction.
- Yardwork: Raking leaves, winterizing your garden – it all counts as physical activity! Make it fun by listening to up-tempo music that will inspire you to work to the beat.
- Farmer’s Market: Make a Saturday morning date with a friend to visit a farmer’s market. Enjoy catching up while getting your body moving and exploring the harvest bounty.
- Limber up: Fall is a great time to take your yoga, pilates or tai chiworkout outdoors. Breathe in the crisp air, relax your mind and stretch your body.
A recent study at the University of Maryland made a connection between moderate physical activity and protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease. The study’s researchers suggest that physical activity can help slow age-related shrinking of the hippocampus.
Regular exercise is one of the four pillars of brain health. Even 30 minutes a day can help to maintain a healthy brain.
Looking for ways to add activity into your day? Try these ideas:
- Explore a new part of your neighborhood on foot. Plan a new walking route regularly.
- Dance party! Turn up the tunes and dance it out.
- Plant or tend to a garden – your own or a community garden
- Turn your house into a gym. Hold on to a chair for squats, do bicep curls with water bottles or soup cans.
- Relive your childhood with play – catch a ball, jump rope or play horseshoes.
How do you stay active?
January is National Shape Up US month, founded by the nonprofit Shape Up America!
We thought you might appreciate a few ideas to get active during the winter months and celebrate Shape Up month both indoors and outdoors:
- Volunteer with your local Special Olympics
- Go dancing
- Play fetch with your dog at a park
- Go indoor rock climbing
- Go swimming at an indoor pool
- Ice skating
- Skiing or snowboarding
- Build a snowman
- Make snow angels
- Have a snowball fight
- Take an aerobics or yoga class
- Play a game of indoor basketball or volleyball
What do you plan to do this month to “shape up?”