Cardio exercise has officially moved into the number one spot for “the best thing you can do for your brain” (AARP Bulletin, Get Moving for a Healthy Brain, Sept 2013, pgs 12-13). Take that crossword puzzles, foreign languages, and musical instruments! (Also touted as great vehicles to boost brain power, but downshifted out of first place given the latest research).
If you want to keep smart, cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half, repair brain cell damage, and basically grow a bigger brain, you’ve got to dance, baby, dance! Face facts midlifers and baby boomers — if you do not eke out at least 150 minutes of cardio per week, your brain actually shrinks every year post 40, year after sedentary year.
But if you want to increase your brain size and capability — cue harps and trumpets — then find a way to work in about 22 aerobic minutes each day. Or 50 minutes three times a week. Or 75 minutes twice a week. I can do this math for you because I boosted my brain teaching step class and walking my dogs. We’re easy around here how you get to the total and new studies support that ease. Sure walking for weight loss is wonderful (read our post on what walking can do for you). Walking for brain gain is even more powerful and impactful! Or try dancing, swimming, getting on a treadmill, biking, hiking, gardening even (could this be any easier? No I am not going to include watching Dancing With the Stars on this list even though I admit total fanaticism for the show.) It really does not take much time or effort to succeed with a brain fitness program.
Let me stress again how powerful movement is for your brain — each and every time you exercise, you get a bigger hippocampus (that’s sexy talk for the post 50 crowd); you stimulate the growth of new neurons; you cut your risk of dementia by 60 percent. Can I get a rah rah here with a pom pom thrown in please?
As Dr. Michael Luan, a friend and expert on Conscious Movement puts it, “We exercise to become better humans. Conscious Movement evolves your brain. The body is your ultimate tool for success, and we all have the potential for greatness. Success with your body creates success with your career, relationships, and ultimately, your life.” The better your brain, the better your life, wouldn’t you say?
Movement will improve your focus, increase your mood, enhance your decision-making processes, help your ability to plan, regenerate brain cells, help your memory, and basically outsmart all those young people who can’t believe how sharp you are for a person your age.
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Those who are regular Fun and Fit followers know that Alexandra and I never saw a mic we didn’t like. Still, the prospect of recapping 10 points off the top of my head in front of 125 fellow fitness pros was a bit daunting. Darn that brilliant and beckoning presenter, Terry Eckmann, PhD, a Minot University Professor, who was presenting this session and another one I attended, Healthy Aging Survival Kit.
Motivated by wanting to bring you the best info on what movement can do for your cognitive skills, I focused. And stroked my notes lovingly. Then jumped up energetically recognizing that activity would increase my recall and memory! How convenient!
I took a deep breath and launched into Fun Fit Facts about our brains and learning. Take a “look see” at this list so you can gain all the benefits of a better brain immediately and throughout the rest of your life:
1. If we write something down we anchor that learning. (Works great now, but not as I walked to the front of the room).
2. Our brain weighs about 3-4 pounds, consumes 20% of the body’s energy, uses one-fifth of the body’s oxygen, and comprises around 2% of body weight. (two down; eight to go and I already wished I’d brought my notes).
4. Exercise can literally change the anatomy and physiology of our brain. In 30 minutes we can gain brain matter (who wants more dendrites and ganglia? I do, I do!), have better cognitive skills, improve our memory, increase alertness, and learn better.
5. Every decade after 30 years old we lose 10 percent of our ability to breathe unless we regularly exercise cardiovascularly (If you don’t want to huff and puff your way indecorously through midlife and beyond, then keep up the aerobic training which is also a great brain fitness program!)
6. Our brain loses 1-2 percent of volume after 30 years old unless we move and continue to learn. (Yes, active baby boomers have larger brains on average compared to sedentary ones. Yet another reason to get moving).
7. Good posture sends a message to our brain that we are confident, in control of our lives, and possess self-mastery. (I hope you like this tidbit as it’s so achievable!)
8. 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity:
(Got a test, presentation, meeting or high stress function coming up? Take a brisk walk or jog ahead of time. You’ll perform better. And you’ll be sweaty, but it’s a healthy price to pay for success).
9. When we exercise our:
10. To strengthen our corpus callosum, perform cross lateral movement — moves that cross the midline of the body, such as right elbow to left knee.
11. We best remember information and events that are attached to either a story or an emotional response. (Hmmm, nothing about lists and numbers enhancing memory, so I hope you wonder how this tale ends so you remember it!)
For those who are active, you probably noticed more than 10 Fun Fit Facts. You’re welcome! But was I able to conjure up these points in 3 minutes with no prep? Or did the audience have to help me out?
Neither one (insert huge exhale here). As I ticked off item # 8, Dr Eckmann said she was convinced I was award-worthy and hit the applause-o-meter as she hung the award around my neck. At least I think that’s what happened. Since sitting down to type this, I can’t quite recall….
Slide Photo is allowed courtesy of Terry Eckmann, PhD. Yup, she’s smart, fit, AND nice!
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And if done to perfection, Mr. Smooth himself, Barry White, would hand me this smoooooooth concoction every morning! Come on now, I can’t be the ONLY person who sings, “Never Gonna Give You Up” to my morning beverage!
Since so many of my fitness students do not eat a proper breakfast, I’m sharing this recipe as a way of encouraging all of you to start your day out right. It only takes a few minutes to throw everything in the general direction of your blender, and voila!! – a glassful of your recommended daily intake for so many nutrients is just about signed, sealed and delivered (nope, not Barry White – Stevie Wonder).
As a bonus, this recipe is full of foods recommended for increasing your brain power. I’m making no promises that you’ll get smarter, but it’s nice to start your day with the potential to boost your brain! We go into more detail in our post “Brain Envy” that talks about the link between your brain, your nutrition and your movement habits.
Perky Pick Me Up Smoothie Recipe
2 oz. blueberries
1 oz. plain Greek yogurt
4 Tbl brewed green tea, cooled
2 leaves kale (with spine removed) or other dark, leafy greens (i.e., swiss or red chard)
4 oz. Silk Pure Almond Unsweetened Vanilla
2 Tbl applesauce
Makes 1 serving
Calories saved by using Silk Pure Almond Unsweetened Vanilla milk instead of low-fat moo milk: 25
Okay, anyone can throw ingredients into a blender, but you will be astounded at how fun I make the “ingredient throwing” in this video.
Get even smarter by reading the rest of this post, ‘cause this is the part where I tell you why the almond milk is such a great choice in this smoothie. First, it has less than half the calories of skim milk (30 versus about 80 for a single serving). Second, it is not cow’s milk. I’m somewhat lactose intolerant anyway. Third, almond milk tastes very creamy and delectable (I just love that word). Fourth, I’m a vegetarian, and it’s from the infamous almond vegetable plant! hahaha. Okay, an almond tree. But that’s still something that grows from the ground, not something that walks on it! And finally, it’s GMO-free. I would never feed modified food to my boys, so why feed it to myself?
I’m fond of products that have the word “pure” in them!
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Disclosure: I was compensated by FitFluential LLC for this campaign. All opinions, recipes and taste buds are my own.
Memory & Learning:
One very important benefit of proper sleep is the help it gives you with learning and memory. Whether you’re 60 and trying to navigate the intricacies of Facebook (the fastest growing segment of Facebook users in the past 2 years has been females aged 48-64), or a 20 year old college student trying to study for an exam, getting some sleep after going through the material will help you master the information.
In a 2010 Harvard study, volunteers learned a complex maze. Some of them then took a 90 minute nap. The only people who increased their performance on a second attempt at the maze were those who dreamed about it during their naps. The researchers concluded that the brain was reactivating and reorganizing the recently learned material during the nap.
But let’s face it – few people have 90 minutes in the day for a nap. If we did, we’d probably just get the 8-9 hours (20 year olds need 9-10) of sleep that our bodies actually need each night. Good news – a German study found that a short, six-minute nap helped participants recall a list of 30 words they had memorized earlier.
In our recent post about the 3 stealth saboteurs of weight loss, we mentioned how less than 6 hours of sleep can be correlated with weight gain. According to research from the University of Michigan, an extra hour of sleep each night can help you drop 14 pounds per year. Maybe because you are sleeping instead of snacking! Also, hormones are a tricky thing, and being awake so much can rev up your appetite! And in a study that just came out today (Oct. 25, 2012), a review of 15 years of research “indicate an effect of partial sleep deprivation on body weight management.” Partial sleep deprivation, an energy imbalance, and weight gain prevention and weight loss promotion are all linked! More than 35 percent of American adults are obese and more than 28 percent sleep less than six hours a night, and the study authors found these two to be correlated.
The Harvard study also discovered that those whose naps were long enough to enter REM sleep did 40% better on a test of creativity than nappers who didn’t get any REM sleep and non-nappers. That REM sleep gave the brain time and the ability to work creatively on the problems that had been posed for the test.
So forget the caffeine and alcohol; forget the all-nighters; and forget whatever it is you forgot because you’re overtired! Acting like “an adult” is just making us overweight, grumpy and dull. Better to act like a kindergartener and take a nap!
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
You may already be aware that aerobic activity is the number one contributor to better brain health. But were you aware that you can get more cutting edge insights, practical advice, and how tos to act on this knowledge? Our Fun and Fit radio show, which airs online at WomensRadio.com has several episodes devoted to
The reality is that everything you do affects your brain health, including involving the senses (such as ‘hearing”) while exercising. As in listen to the following episodes as you work around the house or get on your cardio equipment.
With Carrie Ekins, MA
Tips From Kymberly and Alexandra
With Dr Michael Luan
Interview with Dr Kathy Gruver
With Patricia Diorio, MA
Interview with David Littell
To see what else might jog your noggin, go to our Fun and Fit radio page. Once there, scroll down or hit the “next page” button.
Clickety click on these links. But use your finger, not the point on your head! Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Or our blog. Follow us on Twitter: KymberlyFunFit and AlexandraFunFit. Please also follow us on Instagram: KymberlyFunFit and AlexandraFunFit. You can also find us via the icons to your right —–>
Do you have brain envy? Even better, would you like others to have brain envy of you? We do! We just got back from the annual IDEA international fitness convention and found all kinds of interesting stuff to share with you. Dr. Daniel Amen, author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Body” and 27 other books gave a lecture called “The Secrets to Being Thinner, Smarter and Happier.” Want to know those secrets?
Alexandra: The brain is linked so strongly to what you eat and how much you move that its size, shape and function actually change. As your weight goes up, your brain size goes down. You do NOT want to become a victim of Dinosaur Syndrome – big body, little brain = extinct! Sadly, the brains of obese people look 16 years older in scans than they are. And Dr. Amen showed a picture of a very healthy 82 year-old brain, so age does not guarantee brain deterioration.
Kymberly: However, having a birthday this weekend guarantees age! Only 6 more shopping days until twinnie’s birthday. I hope she gets some new dendrites, ganglia, and neurotransmitters for her big day.
Having read 6 of Dr. Amen’s books, I developed serious brain envy, so for my birthday I plan to work out and eat healthfully. Right after the small piece of chocolate cake. I want to do what it takes to stave off any mental decline and have the heaviest, most active brain possible into my 90s and beyond! My real birthday wish is for you all to have the same!
A: The mind controls the body, not the other way round. It’s your brain that tells you it’s okay to eat a second helping of ice cream, and it’s also your brain that tells you to push away from the table.
K: So, does your lifestyle enhance your brain power or detract from it? Remember, the choices you make today affect your brain TODAY and into the future. Hey, if my brain is the ultimate controller, why does Alexandra keep saying she’s in charge?Choices you make today affect your brain TODAY & into the future Click To Tweet
Dear readers: This seems like a perfect moment to direct you to our TrasnsformAging webinar slides and recordings. If you are ready to improve your brain and body, click to see what’s on the other side.
Dino photo: Creative Commons
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
This blog is mine, all mine. (Insert maniacal laughter here) as A-twin is off on vacation. She’s probably upping her serotonin and dopamine levels, which is a brain balancing good thing! So you all get to hear about my fave topic these days (ok, my “obsession”) –– how can we achieve the healthiest brain possible?
That’s enough sitting and reading for now, eh? Time to get a move on. She’s a brainiac, brainiac, on the floor, and she’s dancing like she’s never danced before!
For the record, the rumors of twins being half-wits are not true! I got all the brains! Alexandra got the
looks, personality, inheritance, sympathy cards.
Readers: What would you do to get smarter with age and be the most intelligent 100 year old around?
Brain Graphic courtesy of the talented Heather Frey, aka SmashFit, a fitness pro par excellence AND a graphic designer! Did I mention that exercise also increases creativity?