Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

fit body = fit brain

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Saturday was a perfect day for a training ride. I use MapMyRide, an app that measures time, distance, average speed and total calories burned for almost any type of physical activity you choose. I was looking forward to seeing the record of my ride, because I was working hard and feeling good, and knew I had increased my average speed by a few tenths of a mile. Typically, during the ride,  I hear a voice (not in my head, from my phone) telling me, at least a few times during the workout, that I’ve gone 10 miles, or it’s been 1 hour, or some other attempt at an encouraging message to keep me going.  I did not hear a word as I was riding that day.  When I looked at my phone, I realized I had not pressed “Start my workout”, so nothing was recorded.  At first, I thought, “bummer!”, because I was hoping to have all my workouts recorded from this spring. Then I began to wonder why I seem to forget these things more frequently than I used to. I felt a little better knowing that I’m doing all I can to keep my brain function intact by cycling and doing lots of other training during the week that is part of my weekly schedule.

All types of cycling, indoor or out, combine endurance, cardio and strength work. Outdoor cycling naturally provides interval training  with hill climbing and wind resistance. Balance also plays an important role when navigating potholes and coming to quick stops. Riding and any exercise over an hour in length helps increase endurance, which also plays an important role in keeping cognition intact. All these elements offer the kind of stimulation that may keep our bodies and brain young.  Age-related cognitive decline is somewhat unavoidable, but its rate and extent can be influenced greatly by our lifestyle habits. The most important window of time to work on exercise regularity and frequency is between the ages of 40-65, to delay or entirely prevent loss of brain function.

The study described in this article at  http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/28/does-exercise-slow-the-aging-process/?_r=0  showed an associational relationship between physical activity and the length of our telomeres, which are the tiny organic caps on the ends of our chromosomes. Exercise of any type and in almost any amount reduced the fraying and shortening of telomeres, which were longer in people who exercised regularly. Increased frequency and variety in an exercise program correlated with longer telomeres. This is predictive of mortality, according to Professor Paul Loprinzi, Nobel Prize winner and author of many studies on telomere quality and their relationship to longevity.

Another study compared the leg muscles of twins and looked at their cognitive abilities as they aged. The twin who was more muscularly powerful performed about 18 percent better on memory and other cognitive tests than her weaker sister. See this article for more details on this study. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/brawn-and-brains/

To maximize the positive effect of exercise on the brain, you must:

  • Strength train at least twice a week, but 3 times is optimal
  • Shoot for 5/7 days of working out, for a total of 150 minutes minimum, but 300 minutes is ideal.
  • Include variety – combine cardio, strength training, flexibility, balance and endurance exercises for best results and longer telomere length.
  • An hour a day is ideal, but you can do less if you ramp up the intervals. See http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/the-right-dose-of-exercise-for-a-longer-life/ for more details.
  • Endurance training, such as walking, swimming, jogging or cycling for an hour or more creates the biggest increase in nerve cell production

Go to http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/23/fit-body-fit-brain-and-other-fitness-trends/ to look at more studies about the interplay between exercise and brain function.  If you’re not yet convinced, you will be after reading these. Spring is the perfect time to get physical in the great outdoors, while maintaining or improving your brain function!

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