Not everyone has to agree with Star Trek nerds when it comes to entertainment choices. But everyone should agree that this motto is a great life plan! To make it come true, you need more than just a healthy body. You need a healthy mind. I call this the BBB connection, which stands for body, brains, and bliss. Chapter 4 in my book Fitness After 40 is all about finding your BBB connection to become stronger, smarter, and happier through active aging.
Exercise is Brain Food
You already know a sedentary life slows your body, but you may not realize it does the same to your brain. A weakening body is worrisome, but the threat of our minds slipping is even more alarming. With age is supposed to come wisdom. I don’t know about you, but as an academic and mother, it’s extremely important for me to uphold that! The way to do so is through exercise.
Happiness is a Short Run
If staying smart doesn’t entice you (I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t) then perhaps staying happy will. A 20-minute intense workout releases powerful mood-lifting endorphins that increase focus and calm anxiety for 12 hours. Studies show that exercise can be as effective as medication to treat depression, which is a widespread problem that only increases with age.
The Research Shows…
After reviewing over two decades of research on how exercise improves brain function and mood, my colleagues and I found that:
- Mobility keeps your brain big and therefore smart. Did you know the brain shrinks? Once you turn 40, your brain loses 5% of its volume per decade. Chronic exercise stimulates the growth of capillaries near your brain, providing a delivery route for nurturing oxygen, glucose, and hormones.
- Exercise improves critical cognitive functions, including memory. Researchers at the University of Washington found that six weeks of exercise improved brain functions like planning, memory, and multitasking in subjects even after mild dementia set in.
- More complex exercises are better for your brain. If you can walk, talk, juggle, and text all while putting your makeup on… you’re on the right path!
Here are some common questions I get once I tell my patients the benefits of exercise for the brain.
- How long do I need to exercise to save my brain? In short, you need moderate to intense physical exercise every other day for the rest of your life. Oh, don’t whine! This can reverse age-related brain loss!
- What if my brain is already healthy? Can exercise improve my brain? Of course! Just two months of aerobic exercise will improve memory and learning ability. This is true at any age.
- What if I already have a disease? Studies found improved cognitive functions in patients with Alzheimer’s disease who exercised. This works by preserving white matter connections and brain volume, reducing the risk of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases.
It’s a no-brainer. Exercise keeps you smart. Exercise keeps you happy. So do it!