Simple activities restore your gray matter…and more
Most of us think about movement, exercise and fitness in terms of making our bodies healthier. But research also confirms that physical activity – not to mention regular workouts — can grow your brain and have a dramatic impact on improving your mind and memory both near- and long-term.
Exercise Reverses Aging…Of Your Brain
Take the case of Olga Kotelko, who even at 93 was a successful track-and-field athlete. She held a number of world records and earned hundreds of gold medals in competition.
When researchers at the University of Illinois studied her brain, it looked very different from those of other 90-somethings. Olga’s white matter — the cells that transmit messages from one part of the brain to another — showed fewer abnormalities. And her hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, was larger. Her brain seemed much younger than her age!
Another study of men and women ages 60 to 80 showed that the most physically active participants had healthier brains than did the more sedentary volunteers — especially in the parts involved in memory and cognition. And none of these folks worked out like Olga, a champion athlete. They simply walked, gardened and moved more each day than the sedentary participants.
So, your brain, which shrinks with age, can be grown simply by walking. And if walking can grow your freakin’ brain: 1. Make a habit of parking farther from the store! 2. Imagine what some real exercise can do!
But as the headline suggests, here’s the upshot: Not only is it never too late to start exercising, but you don’t have to run marathons to get the brain benefits of exercise. Hell, you barely have to exercise to get the brain benefits of exercise.
3 Ways to Grow Your Brain Without a Gym Membership
Take a Stand: A pile of research shows that just standing — even if you don’t walk or run — can improve your health. So while you’re at work – stand up! Use a standing desk, or set a timer to remind you to get up every 20 minutes or so.
Take a Walk: If you’re feeling a little ambitious, take a brisk walk three times a week. This can increase the size of the hippocampus, and improve your memory.
Take a Hike: There’s also lots of evidence that walking in nature benefits the brain and your cognition. As little as 30 minutes can yield real improvements.
The next step could be some light resistance training – research suggests that just a few sessions a week may slow the age-related shrinking that occurs in some parts of our brains.
And yes, evidence indicates that a more vigorous workout does your brain even more good. Exercise increases your brain’s neurotransmitters, and consistent exercise helps balance these chemicals in your brain’s arousal center – which means that after a vigorous workout, you will be much calmer, more focused and less irritable.
P.S. Episode 13 of Crusher™TV, “Brain Hacks of Great Athletes,” includes an interview with a marathon runner, who explains how he uses ‘brain hacks’ to finish marathons – and to finish projects! This is the kind of stuff we’re doing every week on Crusher™TV. You can check out a preview here.