A healthy mind in a healthy body

The idea of the connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body was further strengthened recently with the release of a research paper via the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The research, which reviewed thirty-nine existing studies, focused on the way in which staying fit and healthy could help to stave off brain degeneration, particularly in the over 50s.

Interestingly, optimal levels of exercise identified consisted of a mix of aerobic and muscle training activities. Apparently muscle training helps to improve both memory and the brain’s ability to plan and organise whilst aerobic exercise helps areas such as thinking and reasoning.

Before you sign up to those gym classes, it’s worth noting that carrying out the required amount of exercise to help brain power needn’t be all that taxing. For example, simply carrying a heavy shopping bag could count towards muscle training, whilst walking or cycling to work could be enough to tick the aerobic box. Of course that does depend on individual circumstances so if you work from home and have groceries delivered you may have to think again about your exercise regime.

Commenting on the survey Dr Justin Varney from Public Health England highlighted the way in which even ten minutes of exercise can prove beneficial. However, he also pointed out that we’d be better off undertaking 150 minutes of exercise each week as this has been shown to cut the risk of dementia and depression by a third.

Whilst exercise is good at any age, the report’s authors highlight the particular link between exercise and brain health in the over 50s. One of the authors from the University of Canberra commented that the results were ‘convincing enough to enable both types of exercise to be prescribed to improve brain health in the over-50s.’

Apparently exercise can be good for brain health even in those who have already started to show evidence of cognitive decline, perhaps making it a complimentary treatment for those who are suffering in the early stages of dementia. Adding to the mix is the fact that physical activity has also been shown to help to reduce the risk of certain conditions including some cancers and type II diabetes.

Having said that, the level of exercise undertaken has to be appropriate for the individual. Suddenly moving from a sedentary lifestyle into marathon running whilst dressed as a weightlifter may not be the best of ideas! Starting out with a health check up or taking advice from a health professional such as a sports physiotherapist may help to identify what options would best suit an individual.

Another option may be to contact local sports clubs, many of which now offer social sporting activities for older people. Sports such as walking football, kick golf and rambling rugby are all growing in popularity and can be a great way of getting fit whilst maintaining an active social life; another identified brain booster. The importance of staying fit in order to help to boost brain health shouldn’t really be a surprise; but when studies such as these come along to highlight the benefits to be gained from even a moderate amount of exercise, perhaps a time that we all looked to stepping up the desire to stay fit.