The Link Between Exercise and Cognition
The Link Between Exercise And Cognition
Cognition is the ability to reason, make decisions and think, and it contributes to one’s ability to complete everyday tasks. Several recent research studies have examined the link between physical activity and cognition. Regular exercise can help maintain and increase strength, build muscle and improve energy levels, and it can also have a positive impact on brain function. One of the most promising aspects about the link between exercise and cognition is that it does not require drastic fitness measures. Even moderate levels of exercise are shown to have a positive impact on cognitive health.
Cognitive Decline and Age
Research indicates that many people experience some degree of cognitive decline beginning around the age of 50 and accelerating after the age of 70. Factors such as hormonal changes, age-related diseases and even retirement from paid work can impact cognition. For some, cognitive decline becomes more advanced than what would typically be associated with aging, but not as severe as the impairment that comes with conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. This in-between stage is referred to as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and it is characterized by issues with language, memory thinking and judgement. Those with MCI may experience some, or all of the following symptoms:
- Losing the thread of a conversation.
- Difficulty remembering the names of common objects.
- Forgetting social plans or appointments.
- Difficult navigating a familiar environment.
- Demonstrating a lack of judgement or poor decision making.
- Experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression.
If you believe a loved one may be experiencing cognitive impairment, it is important to consult a healthcare provider for a professional assessment.
Physical Fitness and Cognitive Health
Research on the psychological and physical benefits of exercise is still ongoing, but there appears to be a clear link between cognition and physical activity. According to the National Institute on Aging, even moderate levels of exercise can increase the metabolism across certain regions of the brain, namely the regions that affect memory and learning. This is important, because a reduction in brain metabolism has been shown to be a predictor of cognitive decline that can progress into Alzheimer’s. Other research suggests that physical activity may improve or maintain cognitive resilience – the ability to function in spite of accumulating brain plaque or age-related degeneration of the brain.
Creating a Reasonable Fitness Routine
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 2.5 hours of physical activity each week. Fortunately, it is not necessary to embark on a high-intensity physical fitness routine in order to positively impact cognitive health. Even moderate intensity activities such as walking or yoga can give the brain a little boost. One of the most important aspects of exercising for cognition is consistency. Here are some simple suggestions that may be helpful for establishing a fitness routine and increasing your level of physical activity:
- Walk. Take a 30 minute stroll outside on a beautiful day, or hop on a treadmill for a short walk. Taking shorter walks throughout the day is also beneficial.
- Try a yoga or Tai Chi class. Both yoga and Tai Chi are great for stretching, as well as for reducing stress and anxiety.
- Find a workout buddy. Knowing that a friend is waiting to join you on a daily walk or to meet up with you at a class can be a good motivator.
- Stay active. Pace around the room if you are talking on the phone, or make a game out of tidying up. If you realize you have been sitting for a couple of hours, get up and move around a bit.
- Invest in a personal fitness tracker. For some, measuring and tracking workout stats can be very helpful for sticking with a program.