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Exercise Helps Keep Your Brain Healthy

May 24, 2022
Exercise Helps Keep Your Brain Healthy - Lark Health

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In this article:

  • Physical activity is one of the most effective tools against cognitive decline. 
  • In one study, participants who exercised at least one hour per week had nearly half the risk of dementia compared to participants who exercised less.
  • Higher levels of exercise or physical activity have greater benefits.
  • Other lifestyle changes can also lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer's.
  • Lark can help you make healthy behavior changes that can improve your health risks.

Many adults develop dementia or Alzheimer's as they grow older, but your lifestyle choices affect your risk. A step you can take to lower risk for cognitive decline is to be physically active. And it doesn't take much!

Here's how exercise can support brain health, and how much activity you need to get benefits. Get ready to be inspired, because an article in Frontiers in Neuroscience says that in many ways, exercise can be better than medicine!

Why Exercise Is Good for the Brain

Physical activity affects the brain in a few ways.

  • It increases blood flow to the brain. This supports their health and metabolic activity, allowing them to repair.
  • It increases growth factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which improves ability to learn.
  • It reduces levels of stress hormones, which can interfere with memory.
  • It lowers inflammation.

More Activity Is Often Better

How much exercise do you need to get benefits? Anything is better than nothing. Most adults should get at least 150 minutes per week of activity that is at least moderate intensity. More is often better, but it's best to check with your doctor before getting started and if you are thinking about increasing the amount you do.

An article published by Harvard Medical School describes a study that looked at the pace of cognitive decline in older adults. Researchers found that participants who did more physical activity had a slower rate of cognitive decline.

Harvard Medical School describes a different study that looked into more specifics of the best exercise for brain health. Researchers found that almost any type of physical activity helps. That includes tai chi, resistance training, walking, and activities of daily living, such as walking while carrying shopping bags. They also found better effects with increased exercise duration, intensity, and frequency.

When starting an exercise program, increasing your activity level, or adding new activities, it's also good to start slowly. You don't want to risk an injury or burnout!

More Lifestyle Choices to Protect Brain Health

Physical activity is a key to protecting brain health, as explained in a review article in BMJ Practical Neurology. Along with physical activity, the same lifestyle choices that can improve other health measures can help protect your brain. A review article in Nutrientssays the following choices are linked to lower risk for cognitive decline. 

  • https://www.lark.com/blog/your-guide-to-alcoholic-beverages-with-prediabetes/Maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for dementia.
  • Eating a nutritious diet. Eating patterns that depend on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and healthy fats tend to be protective for the brain. Brain-healthy diets also tend to be lower in sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, red and processed meats, and other processed foods.
  • Following healthy sleep patterns. Sleep disturbances are linked to increased risk for Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline.
  • Social engagement. Laugh, play, and talk with friends, family, and anyone else. Being involved in social activities can help your brain stay young.
  • Avoiding smoking. Smoking limits blood flow to the brain, so it has the opposite effect as exercise. Plus, smoking can damage cells.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption. Too much alcohol can increase the risk for cognitive decline. If you drink at all, women should have no more than one drink daily. Men should have no more than two.

Lark can coach you on making healthy choices and turning good choices into habits. You can get more out of Lark by logging activity and using the app often.

Getting physically active is one of the most impactful choices you can make to manage weight and lower your risk of chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension. It can be challenging to hit exercise recommendations or be consistent with a program, but having Lark in your pocket can help.

Lark offers personalized coaching designed to help you make choices that are known to lower the risk for diabetes. The program can help you achieve physical activity goals by providing information, reminders, and feedback when you log your activity or other health information.  Lark is available 24/7 through your smartphone to help you succeed.

You may be eligible to join Lark at no cost to you if your health insurer offers it as a covered benefit. Just click here to get started in finding out!

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