Exercise keeps brain healthy

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Here is a no-brainer for you: as we get older or sicker, our cognitive functions gradually slow down. However, regular exercise helps prevent age- and disease-related brain deterioration.

This may not be a “hot-off-the-presses” piece of news, but because March 12-18 marks Brain Awareness Week, it is a good time to think about ways to keep our brains sharp, alert, and healthy.

Over the years, research has confirmed the link between physical activity and brain health. That’s one more compelling reason to get off the couch and start exercising.

As evidenced by various studies, physical fitness benefits the brain not only by boosting our cognitive abilities -- such as memory, understanding, learning and thinking skills -- but also by helping to significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

How does exercise enhance our brain health? In several ways.

The brain can shrink and deteriorate if it loses cells, called neurons, but exercise improves the flow of blood to this organ, encouraging the formation of new brain cells and supplying these cells with oxygen and nutrients. It is quite simple: when you exercise your body, you exercise your brain, as well, so when your body is fit, so is your brain.

Which types of exercise are the best brainpower builders?

The good news is that you don’t have to do any special workouts just to protect your brain. Any brisk physical activity that raises the heart rate and pumps oxygen-rich blood will be beneficial. If you feel your ticker beating in your chest, you are slightly breathless, and breaking a sweat, chances are you are doing your brain a huge favor!

Instead of steady-state cardio, I recommend interval training. Alternating bursts of high-intensity activity with periods of rest will effectively increase blood flow to the brain, heart and muscles -- plus it’s a very time-efficient workout.

Add the interval training with some resistance training and you’ve got a real winner! And remember: The more regular your exercise program is, the more long-term benefits your brain, and your entire body, will derive from it.

Stefanie Fisher is the owner of Vancouver Adventure Boot Camp, a boot camp fitness program for women that specializes in weight loss. Fisher can be reached at stefanie@vancouveradventurebootcamp.com or 360-823-9636.