Exercising your body does more for your brain than brain-games alone, and midlife is the time to start.
I used to love doing crossword puzzles. Many Sunday afternoons when I was a kid and living with my grandma we could be found huddled over the weekly crossword puzzle. She swore that it would ward off dementia and keep her brain sharp. Unfortunately she suffered horribly from dementia in her later years, and Iâ€™ve since sworn off doing crosswords. In fact, recent research strongly suggests that grandma would have been better off if she had put down her pencil and laced up her joggers instead.
I know that midlife seems a bit early for men to be concerned about dementia. But a review of recent research on late adulthood by Kirk Erikson from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as studies out of the University of British Columbia, suggest that midlife is the perfect time to focus on activities and establish routines that will increase brain function and health in later years. Research is finding that moderate levels (about 120 minutes a week) of moderately intense physical activity (things that increase heart rate and make you break a light sweat) have the benefits of increasing cognitive function and improving brain structure and function.
Bigger, better, faster … your brain on exercise
Cognitive function includes things like our ability to reason, remember things, and focus our attention. These are essentially all of the things that allow us to handle and process information and build knowledge. Physical activity significantly increased cognitive function, especially in reasoning and problem solving abilities. It also decreased the risk of cognitive decline by 40 percent. Thatâ€™s huge!
As we age, the brainâ€™s structure can change through atrophy and loss of volume. Studies has found that physical activity regimes of six months to a year have resulted in increases in brain volume in portions of the brain that support cognitive function. Not only was there an increase in volume of the structures where brain functioning occurs (grey matter), but the volume of the structures that connect them (white matter) also increased. Win-win!Â Â
Brain function is the ability of your dome to get things done as measured by efficiency, like how well and how fast. Increased neural efficiency during cognitively challenging tasks were found in older adults with higher fitness levels. Additionally, research found that connectivity between portions of the brain operated more efficiently.
So if you want a bigger and better brain for the third half of life, put down the pencil and get that heart pumping! Here are a few tips for getting started:
- Donâ€™t like to ride or run? Try other types of activity like swimming, stair climbing, tennis, or dancing. Anything to sustain an elevated heart rate and break a sweat.
- Join a club or group. It helps with accountability and creates opportunity for midlife men to build relationships and ward off isolation and loneliness â€“ another midlife challenge.
- Set a goal and track your progress, especially useful for us men who are goal oriented and like to geek out on checking boxes.
Are you ready to set a goal to keep your nogginâ€™ big and fit? What are you willing to commit to starting this week? Share out in the comments below!