Neuroscientist Dr Wendy Suzuki says exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain today. The immediate benefits include increased levels of the mood-boosters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
In a talk on the brain-changing benefits of exercise, she said mental focus improves so you get more done; reaction times speed up; and you are safer around trip hazards and other accidents.
Regular exercise changes your brain structure. Aerobic exercise gives the most benefit. The hippocampus, which stores memories, creates new cells and grows; as does the prefrontal cortex, which manages thinking, planning and problem-solving.
These changes are like health insurance. They can partially protect you from the effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
A longitudinal study from Sweden backs this up – 191 women were tested for cardiovascular fitness and were then assessed for neurological functioning every six years for 44 years.
The women who had higher cardiovascular fitness also had a lower risk of dementia. Women who were very fit in middle age had a 9.5 year delay in showing signs of dementia compared to those with moderate fitness levels.
As exercise improves mood and boosts energy, it becomes self-reinforcing. That’s great, but getting started can be a challenge. Here are some suggestions:
Create your own walking group. If you are in charge, it’s easier to stay committed. Our brains love novelty so vary the locations.
Get together with a few friends and hire an exercise physiologist. The cost is less when shared and the fun is multiplied.
Set yourself a fitness target with a fundraising walk. The Stroke Foundation has a Scenic Rim fundraising walk from September17 – 20. October is Walk for Daniel month. Walk with friends and make a group donation. For extra motivation, pair it with breakfast at a café.
To prepare yourself for a walking event, join an exercise class at a local clinic or gym that focuses on walking. Targeted training will reduce your risk of injuries and boost your efficiency.
Tristan Hall is an exercise physiologist with Full Circle Wellness. Call 0431 192 284 or visit fullcirclewellness.com.au