Moving regularly provides us with a mood boost, lowers our risk of disease, and helps us maintain a healthy weight.
In the journal eNeuro looked at what kind of impact running regularly had on rats. Researchers had one group of rats run a few miles every day while they were young, while the other group lived in standard cages and were generally sedentary.
When the rats were 7 months old (this is middle-age for rodents!) researchers tested their cognitive function and found that newborn cells in the running rats behaved differently than cells in the sedentary rats. The rats who had exercised were about twice as likely to be able to recall past fear-inducing situations and circumstances than the sedentary ones.
“Starting younger does help prevent cognitive dysfunction and cerebrovascular disease later in life, and the younger we start exercising the better we can help temper effects of other lifestyle choices of the young such as drinking, eating pro-inflammatory foods, and poor sleep schedules,” she explains. “And of course, exercising at a younger age is truly preventive while starting at a later age takes on an element of not only slowing progression but reversal. But if you don’t exercise at young age, don’t get discouraged just start exercising now. Better later than never!”
Type of exercise protects against cognitive decline.
While some exercise is always better than no exercise, when it comes to protecting your brain function later in life, not all exercise types are created equal. Cardio is specifically helpful for brain function.
“Cardiovascular exercise such as aerobic and anaerobic is best to sharpen your mind,” explains Ruhoy. “It promotes blood flow, reduces risk of atherosclerosis, and keeps our brains healthy. The act of exercise also helps challenge our balance, our coordination, and our speed all of which recruit important regions of our brain and keep them active and ‘on their toes.'”
“Get enough sleep,” she advises. “Fatigue can decrease your cognitive function. Make sure to manage your stress, too, as stress interferes with optimal mental function, and meditate it helps improve your memory. I also recommend doing crossword puzzles, as they exercise the brain, and here’s a fun one: Wear your watch on the opposite hand. Doing new things helps boost brain activity. Last but not least, stop eating foods that increase inflammation, such as sugar: Inflammation interferes with optimal brain health.”