I listened to an NPR story today from Michelle Trudeau entitled “The Aging Brain Is Less Quick, But More Shrewd”: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124118077
In one part of the story, Trudeau cited some research from neuroscientist Art Kramer of the University of Illinois that caught my attention. In a study, Dr. Kramer found that “aging couch potatoes” who started a treadmill exercise program who worked up to 3x/week for up to an hour improved their short- and long-term memory functioning. Those who trained also had larger hippocampi – a key area involved in memory. Other areas of the brain associated with decision-making, planning, and multi-tasking were also found to improve in functioning in the “aging couch potato” group.
In past blogs, I have also cited the importance of exercise to our emotional well being. It is at least as effective as the best antidepressant medications without all of the side-effects (e.g., decreased libido, dry mouth, restlessness). So, when are considering options to help improve your emotional and cognitive functioning, regular exercise is a great place to start. Of course, if you haven’t been physically active for some time, it is probably best to have a physical by your doctor first and to ramp up slowly on the exercise as well.
If you are having difficulties getting started, one thing that might help is to think back to a time in your life in which you exercised fairly regularly. How did you do it then? Was it through participation in a sport? Did you have a work out partner? Did you work out in the morning, midday, or in the evening? Did you use a personal trainer? Using this approach, try to “go back to the well.” Often we can use our past experiences to help guide us back into a beneficial workout regimen.
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