By Collette Romstedt, MA, RDN, LDN, ACSM EP
Registered Dietitian & Certified Exercise Physiologist
It’s no secret that what we eat and the physical activity we engage in impacts our health – from weight management to heart health to gut health to mental health, just to name a few. However, one part of our health that is particularly important to consider, especially in the older population and those with chronic conditions, is our brain health. So why is that?
According to the United Nations, by 2030, 20% of our population will consist of individuals 65 years or older. In the United States specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates this number will increase to 25% by 2060. So for that reason, one of the top areas of focus for this population is cognitive health, and more specifically, reducing the incidence of impaired cognitive function and fall risk.
Proper nutrition and regular exercise have been shown to help improve our brain health, which is vital for the reasons mentioned above. Exercise has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain and contribute to the brain’s neurogenesis process, which promotes cell growth. This, in turn, impacts both the brain’s physical and cognitive health.
As a certified Exercise Physiologist, I often get asked, “What exercises can I do to help improve my brain health?” My recommendation is to incorporate the four main types of exercise into your routine. These coincide not only with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans but also the guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine for Persons with Chronic Diseases and Disabilities.
Flexibility: Stretch daily. Stretch all the main muscle groups for at least 30 seconds each. Examples include swinging arms or legs back and forth, hamstring stretches, and quadricep stretches.
Balance: Incorporate 3 days per week. Complete at least 3 exercises per session. Examples include walking backward, standing on one leg, and the heel-to-toe walk. Other workout styles like tai chi, yoga, and pilates often incorporate balance-related exercises, making them another great choice to add to your routine.
Strength: Incorporate 2 to 3 days per week. Examples include lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing chair exercises, and body weight exercises like squats or planks.
Cardiovascular: Incorporate 4 to 5 days per week. Examples include brisk walking, running, cycling, dancing, and swimming.
As you can see, improving your brain health is a matter of getting up and moving more often and more consistently. Challenge yourself to incorporate the four main types of exercise into your normal routine. Choose activities that you enjoy that are realistic for you. Take a proactive role in your health, and remember what 19th-century British Statesman Edward Stanley once said: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”