Lifestyle Choices – Physical Activities
In keeping with the belief that what’s good for your heart is good for your brain, physical activities and regular exercise can help improve both the health of your heart and blood vessels in the brain. They keep blood flowing to the brain, nourishing existing brain cells and even creating new ones.
Long-term physical activity, including exercise, appears to offer one of the best protective effects against the risk of dementia or a delay in the onset of symptoms. Moderate daily activity also can substantially reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, midlife obesity and the metabolic syndrome—all of which may decrease the chance of dementia in later life.
Both physical activity and exercise are important. What’s the difference between the two? According to the National Institute on Aging, physical activities are activities that get your body moving such as walking the dog, raking leaves and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise is a form of physical activity that is specifically planned, structured and repetitive, such as weight training, tai chi or an aerobics class.
Before you begin exercising, it’s a good idea to discuss an exercise program with your physician, especially if you have a chronic condition.
To get moving for brain health, current research suggests these steps:
- Develop a regular physical exercise program.
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days per week.
- Do aerobic exercises, like walking briskly, jogging, swimming, bicycling and tennis, which improve oxygen intake.
- Include strength training, like weights, to maintain bone density and muscle mass.
The spin-off benefits of physical activity and exercise include reducing other risk factors for dementia:
- Falls (by building muscle strength and improving coordination)
- Social isolation
Types of Exercise
Different types of exercise produce different and/or multiple health benefits:
- Balance exercises — these exercises, including lower-body exercises that build leg muscles, can help prevent falls. Examples of balance exercises: hip extension, side leg raise, knee flexion.
- Endurance exercises — these exercises boost your breathing and heart rate for an extended period, and can improve stamina. Examples of moderate endurance exercises: swimming, brisk walking, bicycling, (doubles) tennis, golf.
- Flexibility exercises — these exercises stretch your muscles and tissues to help make your body flexible. Examples of flexibility exercises: stretching hamstrings, stretching calves, stretching wrist muscles, double hip rotation to stretch outer muscles of hips and thighs
- Strength exercises — these exercises build your muscles, improve balance and increase your metabolism, helping to control weight and blood sugar. Examples of strength exercises: arm raise, biceps curl, knee extension, side leg raise.
Even though the message is all around us that exercise is one of the best things to do for good health, are you still holding back?
The National Institute for Aging, in its publication “Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging,” offers these tips to leap over the barriers:
Set yourself up for success from the start.
- Discuss an exercise program with your physician, especially if you have a chronic condition.
- Think that, overall, you will benefit from physical activities.
- Include activities you enjoy.
- Learn to do the activities safely and correctly.
- Fit the activities into your daily schedule.
- Begin exercising gradually and work your way up to a regular schedule.
- Chart your progress to see your improvement.
At times, you may need extra motivation in order not to curb your enthusiasm.
- Recruit an exercise buddy.
- Listen to recorded books or music while doing endurance activities.
- Set a goal—and a reward.
- Give yourself physical activity homework assignments.
- Keep a record of activities and progress.