Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
This seven-move workout, based on Olajide's Aerosculpt class, requires nothing more than your own body weight, a jump rope, and a set of 1- to 2-pound hand weights. Begin by skipping rope, which helps tire out your arm muscles. "This way, you won't need to lift much weight to achieve results," explains Olajide. Instead of counting reps, you'll count seconds for an easy-to-follow routine that blasts fat as it sculpts muscle.
FIT TIP: If you exercised on an empty or almost-empty stomach, you're probably feeling light-headed or even nauseated or headachy. Your immediate food fix: A high-carb nosh, like a banana or half a bagel, will refuel you and kick-start your recovery. And don't forget to drink plenty of water with your snack. Intense or long workouts can leave you dehydrated.
Cardiovascular exercise is known to help burn calories and eliminate body fat, so don’t skimp on your cardio! More importantly, make sure your cardio minutes are effective. 60 minutes on an elliptical reading a book is not going to be as effective as 20 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). That doesn’t mean you can’t be on the elliptical, just be sure to make your time worthwhile! When performing cardio you want to make sure you are working hard enough to breathe through your mouth and make you think about what you’re doing. If you can multi-task during the workout, it’s time to change it up! Shoot for 4-5 days a week of effective cardio training! And if walking is your cardio of choice, check out our plan 3 Walking Workouts to Boost Your Weight Loss.
Research is finding that as we age, exercise may be able to help keep our brains healthy. Three studies presented at the 2015 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference showed that regular exercise may play an important role in protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and may help improve brain function and symptoms such as depression or anxiety in those who have these conditions.
This may be the most worthwhile reason for exercising there is. Studies have shown how people who exercise are at a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. And even for people who start exercising relatively late in life, brain volume can actually increase over time, as can scores on memory tests, compared to people who don’t exercise (their brains shrunk over time, which is normal part of aging).
There is an abundance of evidence that shows regular exercise helps with body weight management, and can lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, increase insulin sensitivity, and increase your likelihood of continuing to exercise — all indicators of better heart health. And given that two of the greatest risk factors for strokes are high blood pressure and heart disease, it should come as no surprise that regular exercise helps reduce stroke risk, too.
Get down on all fours with your knees placed directly below your hips and palms placed directly below your shoulders. Now, raise your right arm forward and stretch your left leg backward at the same time. Create a tension in your back by flexing your foot. Hold the position for a few seconds and then come back to the starting position. Repeat the same using your left arm and right leg. Repeat 15 to 20 times on both sides.