A Surprising Benefit of Regular Exercise

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A Surprising Benefit of Regular Exercise

You already know that regular exercise carries many positive benefits for your body, like reduced risk of obesity or heart disease. But you might be happy to learn that exercise can also benefit your mind. In addition to improving your mood and energy levels, researchers have uncovered a strong protective effect against dementia.

A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, in January 2018, compared two groups of participants over the age of 60.  Their health outcomes were tracked, to see whether regular exercise benefited mental health as well as physical.

One group committed to walking at least 4,000 steps per day, and their results were compared to those who walked less. Accelerometers were used to track activity.

After two years, each group submitted to medical and cognitive testing. Those who walked 4,00o steps (or more) each day performed better on tests of executive functioning, processing speeds, and attention spans. In fact, the results were, on average, “significantly superior” to the group that exercised less.

Medical testing upheld these results. Images of the exercising participants’ brains showed thicker structures, which are thought to be related to better long term mental health.

Test results indicate that regular exercise offers some protective benefit for brains, but why? Researchers hypothesize that

  • physical activity might stimulate the brain’s plasticity (the ability to change and heal),
  • or increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is associated with improved cognition,
  • or both

Further study will likely be aimed at uncovering the exact mechanism of exercise upon mental health. For now, we know that regular workouts to help you maintain your weight, prevent disease, and potentially ward off age-related dementia or Alzheimer’s. All the more reason to lace up your walking shoes, and get moving! But if you need more help putting together a workout regimen, either to maintain health or get into better shape, schedule an appointment with us and we’ll help you address your individual fitness and weight loss goals.