On my way to a race at Knole Park (Sevenoaks) yesterday, the driver remarked:
“I just hope there is a cure for Alzheimer’s in our lifetime”.
There is I said: “Exercise!”
They all (in the car) then gave me a slightly puzzled look as if I was bit loony.
First a quick caveat: Yes there is no ONE thing you can do to prevent Alzheimers – least of all cure it.
There are a number of simple lifestyle adjustments you can make to reduce your risk. Just read through some of the excellent research reports at the GCBH on Brain Health.
But if pushed to name the single most influencing factor (above and beyond the rest), that contributes most to brain health, I would cite exercise – as the research just keeps mounting as to its benefits.
Yet what is common knowledge for us in the Health and Wellness Coaching space, still does not seem to have slipped out into the mainstream yet!
What Exercise is Best?
Of course, exercise is rather a generic term. The real question is what type of exercise is best for brain health and function?
A new study reinforces that when it comes to exercise and brain health, intensity is key.
The Study Looked At Three Different Groups
Healthy older adults (aged 60 to 88) participated in 3 sessions per week over a 12-week period. They were divided into three groups: 1) HIIT workout (4 sets of high-intensity exercise on a treadmill for 4 minutes, plus recovery). 2) Moderate-intensity continuous training (one set of moderate aerobic exercise for nearly 50 minutes). 3) Stretching only
The researchers then tested the amount of each group’s “newborn” neurons (a type of neuron previously shown to be more active than mature neurons in that they are better able to form new connections and create new memories). These newborn neurons tend to be generated by exercise.
They found that those who participated in the HIIT workout improved their memory performance by 30%. The group who exercised moderately, saw no improvement.
Specifically, HIIT boosted their high-interference memory, which helps people distinguish between similar information (eg differentiating cars or book types).
Exercise Significantly Improves Brain Health
If healthy older adults can boost their memory function with HIIT, then exercise is a viable (and natural) way to both prevent cognitive decline and promote healthy aging.
“Only recently have we begun to appreciate the role that lifestyle plays and the greatest modifying risk factor of all is physical activity or exercise.” – Jennifer Heisz
Making Positive Lifestyle Choices
So … if you want to see results fast, it may benefit you to increase the intensity of your current exercise regime.
Now this does mean you should ditch your Yoga or Pilates for a sweaty HIIT session, as both can benefit brain health.
Adding intensity also does not mean a super hard effort running on the treadmill and possibly injuring yourself (especially if you’ve not done HIIT recently – or ever!).
Instead, adding intensity can be as simple as adding hills to your daily walk or increasing your pace between street lights etc
Plus, a HIIT workout that can last as little as five minutes and still boost your memory function.
The Take-Home Message? Just try to add a little tempo to your physical activity efforts! There are obvious benefits to your brain health and overall mental fitness.