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Brain Fitness

Want a healthy brain? Science says you should get moving. The evidence is piling up—and it shows that moving your body may be the best way to take care of your brain.

We’ve long known that exercise is an important component of an overall health program, but now a variety of studies presented at this year’s Society for Neuroscience Meeting have strengthened the link between exercise and brain health. The studies showed that exercise can reduce depression, slow memory loss, and prevent Parkinson-like symptoms.

The results—some in animals, and some in people—indicate that exercise may trump crossword puzzles and other brainteasers for mental wellness.

One study featured rats that ran on a treadmill for at least four months. These rats scored higher on memory tests as they aged. What’s more, they had more blood vessels and white matter in their brains compared to sedentary rats.

Another study showed that exercise can reverse a condition known as bradykinesia, which refers to slow movement. The condition affects more than half of people over age 85 and is common in people with Parkinson’s disease. It is associated with shuffling of the feet, slow facial movements, and extra effort to get moving. Researchers found that elderly rats that used a treadmill for 12 consecutive days significantly improved their mobility—most likely because exercise raises levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that is important for movement.

Finally, a study that involved young adults in Australia found that exercise relieves depression. All of the participants had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder; however, after 12 weeks of exercise over 80 percent of them were no longer classified as depressed.

The bottom line: exercise is critical for overall health—and may be protecting your brain as well. Exercise requires the brain to work hard in order to coordinate complex movements. In other words, use it or lose it.

Want to learn more about brain health? Join Dr. Cynthia Green, author of Your Best Brain Ever, on February 15, 2014 at 4:30 in the Zenergy Yoga Studio to learn why everything you do matters to your memory and brain vitality. Register here.

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