It is often thought that exercise is only related to our physical health and how it improves our heart, muscles, or bones. However, as we continue to learn more about how exercise benefits the body, scientific research has also uncovered an overwhelming amount of evidence that exercise also plays a role in our brain health.

How exercise improves brain function

Starting and maintaining an active lifestyle has been associated with preventing or reversing age-related cognitive decline.

Best exercises for brain health

Any type of physical activity that promotes balance, coordination and flexibility is beneficial,  especially when it is done consistently over a period of time.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. Doing intermittent aerobic exercise at any intensity for six to 10 minutes a day could also make big difference over time. The ACSM also recommends that older adults do some resistance exercises at least twice a week. The goal is to target the major muscle groups in the upper and lower body. When considering resistance training, many people think only of weights or dumbbells. While there is value in lifting weights, resistance training can mean any type of resistance including pushups, pullups, squats, planks, or using resistance bands.

An Exercise Plan for Brain Health

There are many ways to make sure you are getting the right amount of aerobic exercise and resistance training to meet the minimum 150-minute per week recommendation from the ACSM. Here is a sample weekly schedule:

  • Four days per week of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (think 20-30 minutes of walking, jogging, biking, elliptical, swimming, etc.)
  • Two days per week of resistance training (think 20-30 minutes of lifting weights, body training exercises or resistance band workout.)
  • One day per week of rest, including deep breathing exercises

While recommendations have indicated that 10-minute intervals of exercise can have a positive impact on brain function, emerging research is suggesting that any amount of exercise, even less than 10 minutes at a time, can have long-term improvements in cognitive abilities when exercise is continued consistently over time.

Linda Folken, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN has practiced in the healthcare field as a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for 30 years. She specializes in Bariatric and Medical Weight Management.