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As you get older, the size of a certain vital organ becomes more and more important — your brain.
That’s because, typically, the older you get, the smaller your brain volume gets. And if this shrinkage gets too out of hand, you end up with a serious cognitive impairment like dementia.
So your challenge (if you choose to accept it) is to keep your brain big. And if you succeed, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to stay independent, active and dementia-free as you age. But keeping your brain big sounds like an overwhelming task. So where do you start?
Exercise has big brain benefits, literally
Well, the first step to a bigger brain is exercise. It’s probably the most scientifically-backed way to maintain brain volume and boost cognitive health.
In the past, researchers said any type of exercise will do the trick. And it’s true that any exercise you do helps. But it turns out, there is one type that’s more beneficial for your brain than others—aerobic exercise.
In fact, researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine found that aerobic exercise does more than just prevent brain shrinkage and cognitive decline — it actually reverses it…
People with mild cognitive impairment (the precursor to full-blown dementia) were able to increase their brain volume and improve their cognitive function in just six months by doing aerobic exercise a few times a week.
“Even over a short period of time, we saw aerobic exercise lead to a remarkable change in the brain,” said the study’s lead investigator, Laura D. Baker, Ph.D.
The study included 35 participants with an average age of 67. Half of the participants did aerobic exercise four times per week for six months, while the other half did stretching exercises. Both groups had better brain volume at the end of the study, but people doing aerobic exercise ultimately came out on top…
“Compared to the stretching group, the aerobic activity group had greater preservation of total brain volume, increased local gray matter volume and increased directional stretch of brain tissue,” said Jeongchul Kim, Ph.D., co-investigator on the study.
Before you break out your old aerobics gear, study participants didn’t attend special aerobics classes or hire a personal trainer. They did simple exercises that anyone can start doing right now.
They exercised on a treadmill, a stationary bike or an elliptical machine. And if you don’t have access to any fancy equipment, running, biking or hiking would work just as well. You could also try more creative aerobic activities like:
- Rock climbing
- Power yoga
- Ice skating
Really, the options for good aerobic exercise are endless. Even an hour of vigorous cleaning could do the trick. And, as an added bonus, a recent study published in the British Journal of Medicine found that aerobic activities such as swimming, racquet sports and aerobics/dance/gymnastics classes reduce your risk of dying from any cause (including heart disease and stroke) by up to 47 percent.
What if you are unable to exercise? Omega-3s have been shown to guard against the loss of brain volume. You can eat two servings of fatty fish per week or supplement with fish or krill oil. But dosage matters. Be sure to get enough to do your brain good.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
“The Changing Brain in Healthy Aging.” National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
“Aerobic exercise preserves brain volume and improves cognitive function.” Radiological Society of North America. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
Pekka Oja, et al. “Associations of specific types of sports and exercise with all-cause and cardiovascular-disease mortality: a cohort study of 80 306 British adults, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016.