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Can You Keep Your Mind Sharp by Moving Your Body?

It seems logical that doing a daily crossword puzzle can keep your brain sharp. But did you know that exercise can also improve brain function as you age?

Why is this important? By the year 2050, it is estimated that over 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. A new person is diagnosed with dementia every four seconds.

Fitness appears to be important in keeping the aging mind sharp, according to a study in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. Findings were based on MRI scans of 331 healthy adults between the ages of 19 and 79. Scans showed that for every flight of stairs a participant climbed daily, physical brain age was slightly more than a half year younger than non-stair climbing participants.

In other studies, exercise has been shown to help memory and thinking. One study found that regular aerobic exercise appeared to boost the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.

Physical activity reduces inflammation and stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the growth of new blood vessels and the health of brain cells. Additionally, exercise lowers stress, boosts your mood and helps you sleep better.

To protect your brain, keep exercising if you already do – or start exercising if you don't. Of course, it's important to check with your doctor before beginning any type of physical activity.

Aerobic exercise appears to be the best type of activity for keeping your mind sharp. Aim for a half hour of moderate aerobic activity five days per week. Start by moving for just a few minutes a day and add additional time as you are able.

Choose moderate-intensity exercise such as walking, stair-climbing, swimming or dancing. Join a class, hire a personal trainer or ask a friend to be your workout buddy. Even everyday chores can meet your aerobic activity goal, such as cleaning the house, gardening or raking. If you break out in a light sweat, it means you're getting your heart pumping – and that's good for your brain, too.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 20, 2018
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS
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