Strength training and other forms ofphysical exercise can maintain and improve the health of your brain. 

Brainteasers, crossword puzzles and computer programs are effective in improving certain skills, but nothing is a good for the old gray matter as going for a walk or lifting weights. A lot of people are spending a lot of money to keep their minds nimble as Americans are going to spend about $80 million this year on brain exercise products. 

Even though the facts that back up the use of these products don’t quite live up to the advertising claims, people are interested in putting their mind through a workout following the old use it or lose it adage. Experts feel that exercise – strength training, cardiovascular training – helps the brain by slowing age-related shrinkage of the frontal cortex. 

The frontal cortex is an area of the brain that controls what’s called “executive function,” which is a set of abilities that allows people to behave in the correct manner in a given circumstance and concentrate on completing a task despite distractions.  Executive function – which starts to decline when people hit their early 70s – includes functions like processing speed, response speed and working memory.

According to an article that appeared in the November 8, 2007 edition of The New York Times, research shows that seniors who have been involved in exercise all their lives don’t experience the same level of decline with their executive function, as do their couch-bound peers.  A recent meta-analysis – a fancy term that means “comprehensive review” – of 18 studies shows that when people in their 70s start exercising, their executive function improves.

Walking 30-60 minutes three or more times per week can do the trick.  Strength training can also go a long way towards helping improve brain health, as lifting weights and aerobic exercise can improve cardiovascular fitness that can reduce the risk of, and even prevent, heart attacks and strokes that can cause brain damage.

Exercise, and strength training in particular, stimulates the release growth hormones that can aid in the health and maintenance of the hippocampus, the region of the brain that’s important for memory.  Even though it isn’t clear exactly which of these factors improve cognitive function, it’s clear that exercise is a good way to make sure that your brain – and your body – is all that it can be, regardless of your age.


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