Miracle-Gro for the brain

There are lots of good reasons to exercise, especially as we age.
Exercise improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis. It strengthens muscles, reduces obesity, improves mobility, and lessens the risk of depression.
And according to recent studies, exercise even can improve brain function.
But just as there are good reasons to exercise, there are plenty of excuses that keep us doing so.
“I just don’t have the time.” “Exercise is so boring.” “I don’t have anyone to do it with.” “I just don’t enjoy it.” “The weather is too bad.” “I’m too old to start now.”
When you think about your excuses, are they really valid?
You have as much time as anyone else. Couldn’t you carve out 30 or 45 minutes to exercise five times a week?
If you find exercise boring, why not change your venue—try water aerobics for a change and kill two birds with one stone. You’ll meet new friends and have people to exercise with.
Also, water exercise in a heated indoor pool is perfect during the wintry weather.
But the worst excuse of all is “I’m too old!”
It turns out that the older you are, the more important it is that you exercise.
Take, for instance, recent studies about the effect of exercise on brain function, including memory.
In his book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey says emerging research shows “physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another.”
“For the brain to learn, these connections must be made. . . . The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn.”
Unfortunately, says Ratey, the aging brain is more vulnerable to damage than younger brains. He warns us that, “If your brain isn’t actively growing, then it’s dying.”
But the good news is that, contrary to what the experts thought a few years ago, research has shown we can create new brain cells.
And it turns out that exercise is the best thing you can do to stimulate your brain at any age, especially aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise brings more oxygen to starving brain cells, thus making you smarter. There even is some hope that people with mild cognitive impairment or beginning Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from more exercise and slow the pace of decline.
Researchers emphasize the importance of exercise for older people. But that doesn’t mean young people should wait until they retire to begin an exercise program.
Exercise is preventive medicine, as well as a remedy.
If you have good brain function in mid-life, you will, of course, be more resilient and resist brain dysfunction as you age.
Ratey declares that, “Exercise is the single-most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function. Moving the body keeps the brain growing.”
He calls exercise Miracle-Gro for the brain.
So if you want to live healthy, happy, and smart, why not feed your brain regularly. A healthy dose of exercise may make you smarter—whatever your age.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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