Keep Your Brain Young!

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Exercise is so helpful, right? Anyone who reads my StayAhead Newsletter knows that exercise helps us stay ahead of aging in four key areas:

  1. muscle mass and bone density
  2. joint health and ease of movement
  3. improved balance and reduced risk of falls
  4. heart and lung health and function


But is there anything else that exercise helps us with? How about our brains? It makes for a great sound bite to hear that “exercise helps the brain function better and reduces our risk of scary things like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease”.

But is this really true? Does movement help our brains? Maybe we should ask a neuroscientist, a person who studies and conducts research on brain chemistry and function.

Do you remember the “This is your brain on drugs” campaign? What about a campaign called “This is your brain on exercise”.

Wendy Suzuki is neuroscientist who did a TED talk titled, The Brain Changing Effects of Exercise. In this presentation she suggests that that physical exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your mind. Wow, that’s an exciting statement. But how could this be?

She identifies three reasons that exercise helps the brain…

1. Physical activity has an immediate positive effect.

When you exercise, the brain releases serotonin and dopamine that help you feel happy. Dopamine also keeps you curious and motivated. Norepinephrine ensures that your brain and heart receive plenty of blood and oxygen so you can respond to environmental stimulation. Release of these neurotransmitters result in better mood, faster reaction times, and improved attention. These improvements can last up to two hours after exercise.

2. Exercise changes the brain’s function long-term.

Consistent exercise actually creates new brain cells, particularly in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. The prefrontal cortex is involved in critical thinking, planning, decision making, and control of social behavior. The hippocampus is associated with the formation and retention of long-term memories for facts and events.

3. Exercise can protect you from neurodegenerative disease and decline.

Exercise doesn’t ensure you’ll never get dementia or Alzheimers. But it does ensure that your prefrontal cortex and hippocampus can take more damage before you start to show symptoms. These diseases might take longer to have an effect. The more you invest in exercise, the more resources you have available to protect your brain later in life.


Answers to this question vary dramatically. Clearly we have to do enough to matter. Walking from the couch to the refrigerator ain’t gonna cut it. But if we try to do too much we might burn out and not do it at all.

A general guideline is to do enough to feel challenged. Twenty minutes 2-3 times a week of active movement, that raises the heart rate and causes you to breathe harder, could be considered a minimum.

In my FIT workouts we do 20-30 minutes of active, constant, low-impact movement. I feel good about this amount. You might want to do more which is fine. Just make sure you don’t commit to so much that you can’t sustain it. Consistency always is the most important factor. 

Yesterday’s FIT30 class was so much fun! We did thirty minutes of low-impact cardio movements that included core strengthening. CHECK IT OUT.

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