If you wear headphones or watch TV
while you exercise, you could be missing out on one of the most valuable
benefits of working out: the opportunity to boost your brain health. That’s
also true if you stick to the same fitness routine until you can perform it on
New scientific evidence shows that
physical fitness is the key to staying mentally sharp as you age—but it’s
crucial to pay attention to what your body is doing, says Michael Gonzalez-Wallace,
author of Super Body, Super Brain and
and body fitness expert.
“There’s lots of research showing
that at any age, physical movement boosts brain health and memory, but to get
the best cognitive results, you need to be mentally focused and engaged during
your workout,” reports Gonzales-Wallace, who recommends exercises that use
several muscles at once, requiring precision and coordination.
“Traditional exercises, such as
biceps curls, are boring because you only use a very limited area of the brain,
while more complex movements, such as simultaneously raising your left arm and
right leg, activate many more brain areas—including those involved in learning,
decision-making, timing and balance,” says Gonzales-Wallace, a NYC personal
trainer and former pro basketball player.
Working out can have a dramatic
impact at any age: A new
study reports that the most physically active older people actually have
larger brains—and the least shrinkage and damage to their white matter—than
those who are least active. The study evaluated nearly 700 people born in 1936,
using mental tests, brain MRIs, and questionnaires about leisure activities.
Surprisingly, the long-term study
also found that purely intellectual activities, such as doing crossword or
Sudoku puzzles or studying a foreign language, had no impact on brain health. Other research presented at the 2012
Alzheimer’s Association meeting found that
regular exercise not only enhances the mental prowess of healthy people, but it
even improves the memory of people in the
early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Rev Up Your Brain and Body with These Anti-aging Workouts
Try varying your workouts and
adding some friendly competition to keep your brain stimulated, says
Gonzalez-Wallace, who recommends MedHelp’s free Fit
Friendzy Exercise Challenge App. It offers more than 100 fitness
challenges, ranging from easy to insanely tough, and lets you track the
Solid science backs the following
workouts as excellent ways to stay physically and mentally young:
reported recently, every minute you walk can increase your lifespan by 1.5
to 2 minutes. Studies also show that people who walk regularly live longer, weigh
less, have lower blood pressure, and enjoy better overall health than
non-walkers. Walkers also have reduced risk for age-related mental decline.
training. Studiesshow that strength training three or
more times a week with varied exercises that challenge all of the major muscles
is the best way to cut risk for osteoporosis, the brittle-bone disease that
leads to fractures and disability in older people. “A very exciting study also found that using
light weights to the point of fatigue dramatically improves muscle strength and
endurance with less risk for joint problems than using heavy weights,” adds
Tai Chi. By
improving grace, balance and muscle strength, tai chi is so effective at
helping older people avoid debilitating falls that the American Geriatrics
Society now has guidelines recommending it. Falls are the leading cause of
fatal and nonfatal injuries in people ages 65 and older—and one in three
seniors experiences a potentially preventable tumble annually.
training. Brief bursts of high-intensity activity followed by short rests
has been shown to be one of the best ways to lose belly fat and trim risk for
diabetes. A recent study
also found that in type 2 diabetics, this type of exercise rapidly improved
blood sugar control and increased muscle mitochondrial capacity.
training. A new
study published in PloS One links workouts that boost stamina to longer
telomeres, a sign of good health and a lower biological age. Telomeres are the
protective caps at the end of chromosomes, similar to the plastic tips on
shoelaces. Endurance exercises, which
are typically aerobic workouts done at moderate intensity, also help protect
against cardiovascular disease (the leading killer of Americans), rev up metabolism,
and improve mental alertness.