Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Maintain your brain through walking, running, biking

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I’ve posted many times about the benefits of weight training, cardio work and “just keeping moving” on brain neurogenesis, which is the sprouting of new neurons. A new study this week examines the effects of more sustained aerobic exercise on the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is a small ridge located within the brain’s medial temporal lobe and forms an important part of the limbic system, the region that regulates emotions. The hippocampus is associated mainly with memory, in particular long-term memory. This structure also plays an important role in motivation and spatial navigation.

A recent study looked at the differences in brain neurogenesis in rats who were put in one of three groups and experienced  weight training, high intensity interval training or endurance training. The rats who did the longer term aerobic training showed significant changes in the sprouting of neurons in the hippocampal region of their brains.  The more miles that were covered, the greater the benefits. So what constitutes sustained aerobic training? Any cardio work that lasts for at least a half hour to an hour (walking counts!) in which your heart rate is higher than your resting heart rate.

To see a summary of the study, go to

As you’ve read in previous blogs, all forms of exercise are good for your muscles, joints, soft tissue and bones. More evidence has been stacking up recently about the positive effects of exercise on our brains. This study breaks new ground in examining the effects of longer term, endurance type of exercise on our brain cells.

So how do we reconcile all the new studies regarding which type of exercise is best for our brain? All are beneficial, but different types focus on different areas of our brain. Resistance training has been shown to decrease the amount of shrinkage and tattering  of the white matter. Cardio training has been shown to increase BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic hormone, which has myriad effects on learning and memory. Learning new routines involving sequential steps or body movements like dance have been shown to integrate all brain hemispheres and focus on proprioception (where our body parts are in space) and balance.  Now endurance training is being shown to improve hippocampal health.

What’s the solution?  CROSS TRAINING!  Ideally, include at least 2 days of resistance training, 4-5 days a week of some type of cardio class, brisk walking, running, swimming or cycling. You should include at least one activity per week such as dance or other movement which involve sequential steps. If this seems like too tall an order,  simplify by doing your workout, walk or class in the morning, and use weekends to get in some extra physical activity that is new or involves sustained aerobic exercise.

For a quick look at how to improve your walking speed to meet the standards for sustained aerobic exercise, check out this youtube video with these fun folks at

As Steve says in the video, If you’re movin, you’re improvin !




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