In the past few weeks, I’ve talked about managing stress and anxiety. I’m reminded by a study in last week’s British Medical Journal that when it comes to brain fitness, the number one tip may be: exercise regularly.
A number of studies have shown that exercise improves cognitive function in persons over 50. It’s not clear why, exactly, but there are several possibilities. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that getting oxygen in your brain can help it work better. Some studies have shown that exercise stimulates the body’s production of a substance called brain-derived neurotropic growth factor (BDNF). Increases in BDNF may help brain make new connections among nerve cells and may help the existing nerve cells work better.
The new study in the BMJ followed more than 2,000 Swedish men for about 35 years. They were 50 years of age and older in 1970, and then followed at intervals. The men who exercised more frequently were more likely to be alive in 2006 than were those who reported a sedentary lifestyle. This was still true after controlling for things such as weight, diabetes, and smoking. Read more about the study in my health aging blog by clicking here. The full study report is available on the BMJ site. Click here to read it.
Remember to check with you doctor before you begin any exercise program. The American Heart Association, though, has published guidelines for exercise for everyone, including persons 65 years of age or older. Most people can exercise safely, but if you have a chronic health condition you should discuss the type of exercise and its frequency with your doctor.