Healthy Body, Healthy Brain

Anybody who has kept up with an exercise routine for even just a few weeks has felt the restorative effects of a good workout. How many times has a run helped you clear your head or how often have you felt relieved of stress after hitting the gym?

Research is emerging that helps to fully explain this connection, and is suggesting that these  benefits may be longer lasting than previously thought. It’s possible that having an active lifestyle can not only strengthen your mind today, but also help protect your brain further down the line.

The Research

As we age, a number of detrimental changes occur in our brains. First, the levels of various vital chemicals and specialized cells decrease. This undermines the brain’s ability to repair itself and retain new information. Eventually the brain actually begins to shrink, which results in memory loss and dementia.

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology explored the neurological effects of treadmill running on middle-aged mice. Like humans, the brains of mice begin to shrink in their middle years. The researchers found that the cardiovascular exercise not only increased the number of neural stem cells but that it also sped up their maturation into neural cells and increased the lifespan of those adult cells.

These findings were built on by a later study in the journal Neurology, which examined the connection between walking and the volume of grey matter in the human brain. The study showed that adults, with a mean age of 78, who walked between six and nine miles per week had more grey matter later in life than those who hadn’t been physically active. This finding suggests that that those older adults who were more physically active greatly reduced their risk of cognitive impairment.

Similar studies continue to be released, strengthening the case for exercise as a powerful preventative agent against age-related mental impairment.

Put It Into Practice

So with this in mind, what can you do to keep your brain functioning at full-speed?

The studies discussed above all used mild cardiovascular exercises, like walking, to produce the promising results and there is no evidence to suggest that more intense activity is more beneficial. In fact, physically exhausting yourself could also deplete your body’s fuel sources, including those used by the brain, and increase your risk of injury.

Select activities you enjoy, can do regularly and can sustain for more than 30 minutes at a time. This can include walking, participating in fun runs, or even working in your garden.

Investing in quality cardiovascular equipment will allow you to do this sort of brain-building exercise at home. Take time to research the best home elliptical machines since these will give you a highly effective workout with minimal risk of injury.

Activities that require complex motor movements such as golf, bowling and dancing are particularly useful. Not only do they get you up and moving but they build your fine motor skills and stimulate larger portions of the brain.

Have you experienced the mental benefits of physical exercise? Please share with us in the comments.


5 Ways to Fit in Fitness During the Holidays

The holiday season means plenty of shopping, cooking, eating, drinking and … exercise.


If you’re like most people, maybe not so much. Hectic schedules — coupled with colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours — prompt many people to throw their fitness routine to the curb until after the New Year.

But you don’t have to let yourself go during the holidays. Taking care of yourself, with exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep, is key for good health. Regular exercise can also increase your energy levels and ease holiday stress. Not to mention being active can help keep the eggnog and stuffing from lingering on your hips. The average person gains about one pound during the holiday season, but exercise can help you ward off this weight gain.Ice Skates

Here are five tips to help you keep your exercise regime in the middle of the holiday crunch:

1. Set realistic goals. If you usually run five days per week, shoot for three or four days each week during this busy time of year. If you normally spend an hour on the elliptical, just aim for 20 to 30 minutes. Likewise, save big goals — like losing 10 lbs or training for a marathon — until a time when you have fewer obligations. Strive to maintain your weight and fitness level during the holidays and rev it up again come January.

2. Plan ahead. Map out the day and set aside time for fitness. We tend to find time for our biggest priorities, so carve out some time in your day to be active. Take a walk on your lunch break, do a workout DVD instead of lounging in front of the TV or wake up 15 minutes earlier and start your day with a short yoga sequence.

3. Multitask. Skip the gym and get in a workout while crossing off items on your holiday to-do list. Power-walk while you shop, do lunges, push-ups and sit-ups while you wait for your pumpkin pie to bake and dance while you tidy the house. Remember that some exercise is always better than none.

4. Be flexible. Planned on going to the gym but mall traffic tied you up? Sometimes even the best of intentions get thwarted. Try to find time for a shortened exercise session later in the day. But don’t sweat it if you end up skipping a workout or two. Experts say we can usually afford to cut back on exercise for a few weeks without sacrificing fitness.

5. Create new traditions. The holidays are a joyful time to catch up and celebrate with loved ones.The laughter and reminiscing doesn’t have to take place around the dinner table, though. Now is the perfect time to create new, active traditions with your family. Gather the troops and play an annual Thanksgiving game of tough football, ask your friends to join you for a local “jingle jog” 5k race and take the kids ice skating on New Year’s Eve.

How do you motivate yourself to stay active over the holidays? I always remind myself that I’ll never regret doing a workout, but I’ll almost always regret skipping it.