Researchers have known for quite a long time that exercise is good for your heart and body. However, studies now suggest that what’s good for your body is also good for your brain, particularly in the case of older adults. Indeed, a number of studies have provided evidence that physical exercise helps reduce age-related decline in cognitive function, and may prevent, or at least delay, the onset of dementia.
But how does regular exercise improve memory and other cognitive functions? First of all, exercise has clear effects on cardiovascular fitness, increasing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the whole body, including the brain. Furthermore, exercise helps control blood glucose levels, which is important to mental health, because glucose is the primary source of energy for the brain. Additionally, regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels, which, in turn, inhibits the release of cortisol, a chemical which has been shown to impair memory. Finally, studies suggest that regular exercise may actually enhance the effects of helpful brain chemicals and even slow the loss of brain tissue which typically begins in your 40s.
So, if you want to sharpen your memory, it’s time to get up and start exercising. Walking is especially good for your brain, as it is not strenuous, so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Walking and other aerobic exercises also help to promote healthy sleep habits, which are important because sleep is necessary for memory consolidation.
Finally, exercise is also important to help deal with stress, particularly when you are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Exercise will release endorphins, which can help you feel better, can give you some personal time to think and clear your head, and enable you to remember all the good times.