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Exercise as good for brain as body

Our brains benefit from exercise just as much as the muscles in our bodies do. It was once believed that loss of brain function was a normal part of the aging process, but it is now believed that exercise enhances the growth and survival of new neurons in the hippocampus — the region of the brain essential for long-term memory, learning and emotions.

"Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

However, the key is not to exercise in a hit and miss fashion; you need to make it a continual love affair, a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio, three times a week. Two of the best brain boosters happen to be two of my favorite physical activities, tennis and dance classes. They combine coordination with a cardiovascular exercise. According to Ratey, "You're challenging your brain even more when you have to think about coordination."

The Why

1 Aerobic exercise in particular increases heart rate, which means more oxygen is being pumped to the brain. Aerobic exercise can cause positive changes in the brain that lead to improved cognition.

2 Hormones that help promote the growth of brain cells and create new connections between cells are released.

3 Reduces stress hormones, which allow for more cell growth in the area of the brain.

4 Helps to reduce atrophy of the hippocampus, a major component of the brain that is involved with learning and short- and long-term memory.

Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at

BACK TO BACK SQUAT: Strengthens the lower body. Stand back to back, leaning against each other. Place feet shoulder width apart, heads up, abdominals contracted and arms at your side or placed on hips; walk feet forward 2 to 3 feet. Bending knees, slowly lower hips until near parallel to the ground, keeping knees over ankles. Push off heels and slowly return to standing position; repeat eight to 10 times.

SINGLE LEG BALL TOSS: Strengthens legs and core. Standing 5 to 6 feet apart, facing each other, balance on one leg. Contracting abdominals and keeping upper body stable, toss ball back and forth, building to 30 to 60 seconds on each leg. Picture a basketball toss, and throw from the chest; for a variation, toss ball in different directions.

DOUBLE TREE YOGA POSE: Improves balance and coordination while strengthening legs and core. Standing tall, about arms' distance away from each other, extend arms shoulder height, hands pressed together. Standing on leg closest to partner, bend knee of outside leg, placing foot against inner thigh. Beginners, place foot by inner ankle or calf.

Exercise as good for brain as body 07/21/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014 8:01pm]
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