The Best Workouts To Stay Young

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 autopilot.

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 MedHelp’s brain 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.

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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

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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 results. 

Solid science backs the following workouts as excellent ways to stay physically and mentally young:

  • Brisk walking. As I 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.
  • Strength training. Studies show 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 Gonzalez-Wallace. 
  • 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. 
  • Interval 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. 
  • Endurance 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.

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