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Train Your Brain: How Exercise Can Promote A Healthy Mind

Our global population is ageing at an unprecedented rate never before seen in human history. As this continues, it is ever-more important that we pay attention to chronic diseases and staying healthy at all ages. In particular we should pay attention to mental diseases that can increase with age, like Alzheimer’s. The good news is that we may already have part of the key to prevention — staying active. Truly, it’s that simple.

Of course, it is great to start a strong foundation of being physically active at a younger age but it is never too late to begin. For instance, take Ida Keeling, a 100 year old Bronx, New York native, who began racing in her 60’s and holds a record for the 60-meter dash for American women ages 95-99. Or, Harriette Thompson, who at 93 years old is the oldest woman to run a competitive 26 miles and 385 yards and continues to partake in marathons. A recent study was published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that demonstrates how physical activity, such as swimming, regular walking and even dancing, may substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in older individuals.

While we cannot all be Ida Keeling’s or Harriette Thompson’s, we can be the greatest versions of ourselves, which starts with taking care of our bodies and our minds. ‘Longitudinal Relationships between Caloric Expenditure and Gray Matter in the Cardiovascular Health Study,’ was published this spring by a team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Pittsburgh and others. Gray matter is comprised mostly of neurons in the brain and generally equates to greater brain health. Through this study, researchers discovered that when participants had increased energy output from a variety of physical activities it related to larger gray matter volumes, regardless of how impaired they were cognitively.

“For the purposes of brain health, it looks like it’s a very good idea to stay as physically active as possible,” said Cyrus Raji, a senior radiology resident at U.C.L.A., who led the study. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that affects the brain through serious memory loss, confusion, mood and behavior changes and further alterations. Physical activity is associated with a host of health and wellness benefits and now through this study we see how it can help improve the mind and reduce the risks or serious cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

“If we want to live a long time but also keep our memories, our basic selves, intact, keep moving,” Dr. Raji says. So, what do you say? Join a dance class, go for a walk with a friend, take a swim, anything that raises your heart rate and makes it beat a little harder. Not only will your body thank you but your mind will too.