Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Keep those neurons!

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I don’t know about you, but I’m very interested in maintaining as many neurons as possible as I get older. My guess is this is a common thought many of us have- what in God’s name can I do to….pick one:

  • remember names
  • remember appointments
  • find the right words when I need them
  • remember how to get to certain places
  • figure out complex problems
  • feel confident that I’m challenging my brain so I keep what I have

In my blog post of Oct. 25th, I looked at how weight training specifically affects your brain. This week let’s look at a new study which examines how cardiovascular exercise affects our brain structure and hence, its function. The Framingham heart study measured participants’ VO2 max (maximum amount of oxygen use in one minute)  at a mean age of 40, then nearly 2 decades later at a mean age of 58.  The results were convincing.  Those who took the longest on the treadmill to increase their heart rate, which is a measure of fitness, showed less brain shrinkage on their MRI two decades later then those who had higher heart rates and blood pressure. The implications are clear; mid-life exercise is one way to minimize brain shrinkage as you age. To learn more, go to

Another article looked at ways to improve brain performance both in the short term and long term. As we all know, the brain’s job is not just cognition- mood, psychic state, and the performance of a variety of tasks all depend on the brain’s alertness. We can maximize our abilities by ensuring that we get exercise both in an immediate, shot-in-the-arm way, and also through daily physical exertion and activity. Check out these ideas and see which ones you are already doing. If you’re not, consider making one a new habit.

1. To improve immediate mental performance, think quick-and-dirty exercise bouts. A short, sweaty session of jumping rope, running in place, or squat bends can quickly improve blood flow to the brain, helping to improve the transmission of signals through the nerve cells, according to John Ratey, author of  Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

2. Reduce and prevent depression through steady activity a few times a week. Studies over the past several years have indicated that burning off 350 calories three times a week through sustained, moderate activity can reduce symptoms about as effectively as antidepressants for those with mild depression. Exercise can also work hand-in-hand with medications and therapy to help control depression in those with more severe symptoms.

3. Pick up a new sport or skill to improve learning. Taking up a new workout routine that requires hand-eye coordination or fancy foot or arm movements puts a little stress on your brain cells to help them grow, according to Ratey. Complicated activities may also improve your concentration skills over the short-term even better than more straightforward workouts, according to one German study.

4. To retain your memory, even mild daily activity works. While the latest British journal review study couldn’t find evidence that exercise provided a temporary memory boost, other studies have suggested that elderly adults who engaged in leisure activities such as short walks, gardening, cooking, and cleaning were less likely than their sedentary peers to have memory loss and a crumbling vocabulary.

Read more details here –

Once again, the evidence stacks up. One of the biggest favors you can do for your body and mind, at least 3-4 days a week, but ideally 5-6 days a week is getting in your cardio, strength training and/or some type of challenging new physical skill (like drumming!) to keep those neurons firing. What will you choose?

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