There are many ways to improve brain function and help prevent mental degeneration. Scientists have discovered that certain foods, adequate sleep and meditation all have a profound impact on brain health. Now, researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia have identified which non-aerobic exercises build brainpower.
“Even when people did have some level of decline already, they were actually able to improve their cognitive function,” says the study’s author, Joseph Northey, a Ph.D. candidate in sport and exercise science.
If you want to improve your cognitive function, here is what Northey and his fellow researchers recommend:
Walking Briskly Can Make a Difference
Walking is a simple exercise. If you don’t have an established workout routine, then it is a good place to start. You can walk around your neighborhood or at a local park. You don’t need a gym membership, just a comfortable pair of shoes.
Elissa Burton, Ph.D., a research fellow at Curtin University in Australia, recommends building up to at least 30 minutes of walking per day. Moreover, when you pick up the pace, you will maximize the benefits to the brain. Helen Macpherson, Ph.D., a dementia research fellow at Deakin University in Australia, believes that the key is increasing the intensity of your walk to a point where your heart rate starts to go up.
Longer Workouts Increase Brain Health
The study out of Canberra discovered that the biggest brain boost comes from a longer workout. So if you are moderately exercising for 30 minutes, see if you can increase that to 45, and then 60 minutes. Furthermore, if you typically work out in short sessions, see if you can consolidate them. Ideally, you want five 45-60 minute session each week.
Tai Chi is Worth a Try
The slow, rhythmic movement of tai chi have a profound effect on the brain. The Canberra study found that tai chi improved cognitive functioning in participants over 50 years old. In addition, tai chi is low-impact, gentle exercise, so it is easy on the joints.
Because tai chi can be challenging to learn alone, it is best to seek out a local class or dojo. Certified instructors are listed by the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association.
Add Simple Resistance Training
Resistance training exercises that cause muscles to contract can help improve brain health. They also protect against cognitive decline that occurs when you age.
There are many ways to practice resistance training, without going to the gym. For example, you can look for harder options in your daily routine. This includes taking the stairs instead of an elevator. You can also squat when picking objects off the floor, instead of bending down. Finally, start getting up from the couch or chair without using your hands.
Furthermore, you can purchase an inexpensive set of resistance bands (I personally like this set by Fit Simplify). With these bands, you can easily begin your at-home strength (and brain!) training.
Of course, it is very beneficial to find a group program or class that incorporates resistance training. Remember that there are many low-cost options out there for all ages and experience types, like your local YMCA. Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if you’re not experienced with exercise. Now is the best time to start a brain-friendly workout or improve your existing routine so you’re working on mental dexterity as well as physical strength.
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