What Type of Exercise Is Best for the Brain?

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Exercise is just as good for the brain as it is for the body, a growing body of research is showing. And one kind in particular—aerobic exercise—appears to be king.

“Back in the day, the majority of exercise studies focused on the parts of the body from the neck down, like the heart and lungs,” says Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “But now we are finding that we need to go north, to the brain, to show the true benefits of a physically active lifestyle on an individual.”

Exercise might be a simple way for people to cut down their risk for memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, even for those who are genetically at risk for the disease. In a June study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Okonkwo followed 93 adults who had at least one parent with Alzheimer’s disease, at least one gene linked to Alzheimer’s, or both. People in the study who spent at least 68 minutes a day doing moderate physical activity had better glucose metabolism—which signals a healthy brain—compared to people who did less.

The brain benefits of exercise go beyond disease prevention. Okonkwo has also shown that people who exercise have greater brain volume in areas of the brain associated with reasoning and executive function. “We’ve done a series of studies showing that increased aerobic capacity boosts brain structure, function and cognition,” he says, “Other people have found exercise can improve mood.” Okonkwo’s research has also shown that exercise can diminish the impact of brain changes on cognition, not just prevent it. “Exercise is the full package,” he says.

Exercise likely improves brain health through a variety of ways. It makes the heart beat faster, which increases blood flow to the brain. This blood delivers oxygen—a good thing, since the brain is the biggest consumer of oxygen in the body. Physical activity also increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is known to help repair and protect brain cells from degeneration as well as help grow new brain cells and neurons, says Okonkwo.

In one study. Joe Northey, a PhD candidate at the University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise in Australia, showed that when people ride a stationary bike, they experience increased blood flow to the brain, and within that blood are a range of growth factors that are responsible for cell growth and associated with improved brain function. “Considering exercise can also reduce the risks associated with common lifestyle diseases that impact the brain, such as high blood sugar and hypertension, it is further motivation to try to incorporate exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Northey.

Aerobic exercise, like running and swimming, appears to be best for brain health. That’s because it increases a person’s heart rate, “which means the body pumps more blood to the brain,” says Okonkwo. But strength training, like weight-lifting, may also bring benefits to the brain by increasing heart rate. The link between resistance training and better brain health is not as established, but research in the area is growing.

For now, Northey recommends a combination of the two. “Combining both is ideal,” he says, for all of the other benefits exercise bestows on the body. “In addition to improving your brain function, you should expect to see improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength, as well as reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and hypertension amongst other diseases.”

 

 

Marriage, fatherhood may cause men to gain weight

There is a common belief that once people get married, they begin to pile on the pounds. A new study suggests that this notion may hold some truth, after finding that married men have a higher body mass index than unmarried men.

Additionally, the research reveals that men – but not women – gain weight in the first few years after becoming a parent.

Study co-author Dr. Joanna Syrda, of the School of Management at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, and colleagues say that their findings help to shed light on the social factors that could lead to weight gain, which may help individuals to avoid becoming overweight or obese.

The study was recently published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

The researchers came to their findings by analyzing the data of 8,729 heterosexual couples who were part of the 1999-2013 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which was originally launched to study family income.

As part of the study, couples were required to provide information on their marital status, body mass index (BMI), and offspring. Data were collected every 2 years.

Married men 3 pounds heavier

The researchers found that, compared with unmarried men, men who were married had a higher BMI, weighing around 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds) more.

Parenthood also appears to affect BMI; the weight of married men increased in the first few years after becoming a father.

However, just prior to and after getting divorced, the researchers identified a reduction in men’s BMI.

The BMI of married women was not influenced by marriage or parenthood, the researchers report.

The team notes that previous studies have suggested that individuals who are single but who are looking for a partner tend to focus more on their fitness than people who are married. They believe that their results support such findings.

Furthermore, the researchers believe that their study strengthens the hypothesis that married people eat richer, more unhealthful foods as a result of greater social engagement.

However, the results oppose studies suggesting that married people are in better health as a result of greater social support from their spouses.

Being mindful after marriage

While further studies are needed to gain a better understanding of how marriage affects weight, the team believes that the current study offers some insight.

“It’s useful for individuals to understand which social factors may influence weight gain, especially common ones such as marriage and parenthood, so that they can make informed decisions about their health and well-being,” says Dr. Syrda.

“For married men who want to avoid BMI increases that will mean being mindful of their own changing motivation, behavior, and eating habits,” she adds.

“Given major public health concerns about obesity, understanding more about the social science factors that can cause weight fluctuation is important.”

10 Health Hacks

Every single minute someone somewhere has just made a health-related resolution, such as to lose weight, stop smoking, take less alcohol or join the neighborhood health club. While it is common to set high goals, experts say that setting smaller goals could do more for our health.

“Small steps are achievable and are easier to fit into your daily routine,” says James O. Hill, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. “They are less overwhelming than a big, sudden change.”

Here are 10 to try:

1. Stop gaining weight. Even if you gain just a pound or two every year, the extra weight adds up quickly.

2. Take more small steps. Use a pedometer to count your daily steps; then add 2,000, the equivalent of one extra mile. Keep adding steps, 1,000 to 2,000 each month or so, until you take 10,000 steps on most days.

3. Eat breakfast. Breakfast eaters tend to weigh less and have better diets overall. For a filling and nutrition-packed breakfast, top Whole Grain Total® with fresh fruit slices and low-fat or fat-free milk.

4. Switch three grain servings each day to whole grain. If you’re like the average American, you eat less than one whole grain serving a day.

5. Have at least one green salad every day. Eating a salad (with low-fat or fat-free dressing) is filling and may help you eat less during the meal. It also counts toward your five daily cups of vegetables and fruits.

6. Trim the fat. Fat has a lot of calories, and calories count. Purchase lean meats, eat poultry without the skin, switch to lower-fat cheeses, use a nonstick pan with only a dab of oil or butter.

7. Consider calcium by including two or three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. Dairy calcium is good for bones and may also help you lose weight.

8. Downsize. The smaller the bag, bottle or bowl, the less you will eat.

9. Lose just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight. The health benefits are huge-lower blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides.

10. Keep track of your eating. Write down what you eat over the next couple of days and look for problem spots. Often, just writing things down can help you eat less.

Mindy Hermann.

Dance To Your Health

We as a world are more aware than ever of the importance of physical fitness to our overall health. While we remain aware of the need for physical activity far too many of us find far too few reasons to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives and routines. There are many reasons that we procrastinate in this particular effort. For some time is the defining factor while others will readily admit that they have no appreciation whatsoever for those activities that come to mind when exercise is considered.

Whatever your reason for not incorporating exercise and physical activity into your daily routine, have you considered dancing for your health? There are all kinds of wonderful reasons to dance though I can think of very few that would be better than dancing for the sake of your health and physical well being. The good news when it comes to dancing is that in most instances it doesn’t feel as though you are getting exercise and the burning of calories doesn’t sting nearly as much when you’re having fun burning them.

Dancing has evolved a great deal and while the history of dance is a long and noble history. Even, one might add, a quite manly history for those men who haven’t considered dancing in the past.

Benefits of Dancing

In addition to burning calories, a good thing for dieters everywhere, dancing also helps strengthen your muscles and bones. It can provide either a low impact or high impact workout according to your wishes and the music you select, it can be entertaining and feel like fun rather than a chore—this means you are more likely to actually do it than many other exercise programs, and it can help tone all areas of your body rather than focusing on one particular area as many exercises do.

Dancing also provides an excellent opportunity to socialize and meet others if you take classes while in the process helping you gain a better sense of balance and grace (those like me who have absolutely no sense of grace could greatly benefit from this alone). Dancing, and the physical activity alone can help you ward off potential illnesses that are often associated with excess weight and too little physical activity. Even as little as thirty minutes of dance 4 days a week can bring about profound results when it comes to your overall health and well being.

More importantly however than any of these benefits of dancing mentioned above dancing is fun. This means that you will enjoy life a little, laugh a little, and accidentally work a little physical fitness into your life without feeling as though you are suffering for the sake of doing so. So many people get very little physical activity because they do not see physical activity as fun.

If you are wondering what sort of dance is right for you, there are many from which to choose. Square dancing is great fun for couples as are ballroom and swing dancing. Line dancing, contra square dancing, clogging, and tap dancing can be great fun in larger groups or as a participant in a class. If you want something a little sexier for your dance efforts you can always try Salsa dancing, Flamenco dancing, or belly dancing.

If you live in or around a relatively large community it is quite likely that you can find classes or teachers for private lessons for each of these forms of dance quite easily. You do want to make sure that anyone you take lessons from knows what they are doing. You can also look in your local paper for square dancing groups or bars or clubs that offer line dancing classes on designated nights during the week.

Whether you have been dancing all your life or are a rank novice when it comes to dancing, this is a great way to bring physical fitness into your life and improving your health without feeling as though you are really working for it or experiencing a sense of dread at the very thought.

4 Outdoor Workout Hazards

Warm weather brings longer workouts and enjoyable surroundings. You can perform your workouts outside in the fresh air instead of staying in the house and looking out of the window while you workout. Although the weather and fresh air are great, there are different outdoor workout hazards you need to acknowledge.

1. Getting Lost

Warm weather makes some people want to explore. Whether you are walking or going for a jog, it is a lot easier to get rerouted from your path than you think. If you plan on exploring a new trail, places, and surroundings, you need to have a map of the area with you. If you are like many people, you do not carry your cell phone with you when you are working out. Aside from not carrying your cell phone, you may not think to let someone know where you are going and the time you plan to return. There are different ways you can avoid getting lost. There is nothing wrong with exploring the outdoors while getting a good workout, but you should let someone know where you are going, carry an up-to-date map of the area you will explore and consider carrying your cell phone. There are many different types of workout clothing available that have pockets specifically designed for holding cell phones and keeping them safe from damage due to the phone falling out of your pocket.

2. Skin Cancer and Sunburn

Do not be so excited to workout in warm weather without applying sunscreen. Sunscreen lotion that has an SPF of 30 or more is best if you plan on being in the sun for a long period of time. The sun may feel great and refreshing on your skin, but the sun gives off UV rays, and these rays damage the skin and have been known to cause skin cancer. Many people damage their skin by failing to apply sunscreen because it is cloudy outside or not as hot as previous days. On cloudy days, the sun can be more potent because it is trying to break through the clouds. UV rays from the sun break down collagen and elastin in your skin, causing the aging process to progress more rapidly than normal. Some people opt not to wear sunscreen because sweat drips in their eyes and causes problems. The good news is that waterproof sunscreen prevents sweating from becoming a problem.

3. Dehydration

Dehydration can become a problem when you are performing your workout routine outside, especially when weather conditions are favorable. If you have diabetes, you are more susceptible to dehydration that other people. Instead of consuming juice and soda to refuel your body and replenish electrolytes you lose while working out, drink as much water as possible.

4. Pollution

Pollution comes in many different forms. Factory fumes, car exhaust, and construction dust are all primary forms of pollution. These pollution types can cause serious health conditions, including lung cancer and asthma. Pollution can damage your lung capacity. You should perform your workout and similar activities during early morning hours and not industrial areas