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: Those who know what a high energy,
chatty, loquacious, interactive mover and groover I am will be surprised to hear the answer coming from me. (Or not, as you already saw this post’s title. Menopause might make us forgetful, but not stoopid.)
Anyone else find menopause a little stressful? In the award winning category of “Stating the Obvious,” menopause stress can contribute to memory loss and weight gain. As in, “I sure don’t remember gaining those 30 pounds.”
Anyway… turns out Meditation can turn back the hands of time and pounds. Additionally meditation has even been proven to make us nicer, kinder, more compassionate people. (Hear that hubster? I’m not menopot moody. I’m meditation deprived). If you want to breathe more life into yourself, read our post on meditation lite). Also check out my Tip #3 in our post “10 Ways to Get Healthier in Under 10 Minutes.”
Just a few daily minutes of meditation can calm us, reduce stress, and slow our heart rate. Sounds a lot like the benefits of exercise, right? But without moving! Meditation may also reverse the effects of aging on the brain. It thickens the prefrontal cortex, the area of brain that helps with planning and attention. For people with memory loss, meditation helps increase memory via more blood flow to brain. But wait, there’s more! Meditation also decreases our body’s stress hormones, heals our wounds faster, and lowers our blood pressure.Meditation may reverse the effects of aging on the brain Click To Tweet
Factor in recent studies that show meditation increases telomere length, and you have your longevity, happier life bonus plan! In the DNA world, telomeres are the little plastic pieces on the end of our chromosome shoelaces. The longer your telomeres, the longer your life span. Short telomeres accelerate aging and correlate to a shorter life. People who meditate daily for at least four years have longer telomeres than those who do not meditate. For ten added quality years of life, be the first to enter the word in the comments for that plastic shoelace piece without having to google it. Hint: It starts with an “a.”
I’ll take an order to go please of a young, long-living brain garnished with my years of experience. Since I have big plans to be around four years from now, I might as well get on that telomere lengthening program.
On when of my guest teaching trips to Rancho la Puerta Fitness Resort, I decided to attend three meditation classes. Loved them! Not only did I stay still and quiet for record time (ok, half an hour for each), but also I have stuck with meditation since coming home. More on that later in this post. Remember to keep reading!
The sessions were totally different from each other: one was a guided visualization that the instructor talked us through from start to finish. Another was a silent meditation with the instructor giving directions and suggestions at the start, then setting a timer that lulled us back at the end. The third had verbal guidance that segued into soft music and nature sounds. All three meditations left me revved, calmed, and focused enough to learn more. One thing the Ranch teachers stressed — perhaps better to say “emphasized” — is that meditation comes in many forms and styles. Pick one or a few approaches that resonate with you, as there is no right or wrong way. We reap the active aging benefits regardless, in as short as seven hours in some cases.
Since I am a meditation novice I asked one teacher whether having phone apps would help. Cha Ching – Ohmmm! That got a resounding thumbs up, heart rates down as a good idea! As soon as I crossed the border back into the U.S. (also known as “covered rate plan for my cell phone”), I downloaded “Relax and Rest,” “Take a Break,” “Calm,” and “Meditate Now.” All are free. So far my favorite is “Calm” as it offers verbal guidance and a 7 day progressive program. My mind wanders less when I have a voice calling me back from my mental to-do lists, thoughts of the past and future, and sleep’s siren call. Try them if you have a smart phone and are wanting to reap meditation benefits. Heck, you may end up with a youthful, sleek, brainy phone once you download these apps!
I am on Day 6 of meditation, with some sessions lasting 5 minutes, others hitting an ambitious 13! So far I have noticed a bit more ability to focus and my creativity has been on the upswing. I thought of this post title after meditating, for one thing! Now to be nice to my sister. Might need those four years of meditative practice first. snarfle snark
Alexandra: I was going to meditate, but I forgot. Maybe next time.
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Are you over 50, one day hope to be, or have loved ones who are? Then the following quotes and key points from the recent IDEA World Health and Fitness Convention are for you! And you! And, yes, you too! All of yahs! And your parents, as well. But only if you want to live healthier, smarter, or better.
My prior post promised to share the good stuff from the trend setting sessions beyond Day 1 at IDEA. This year’s convention theme was “Inspire, Connect, Transform.” We hope the following quotes and highlights do that for you.
Day 2 started with one of my favorite subjects: the effects on the brain from movement. Who among you knows someone with Alzheimer’s or memory loss or slowing mental capacity? Of course such ravages will never happen to us, right?
Guess what? “A case of dementia is diagnosed every 4 seconds in the U.S. If our nation were to increase its activity by 25%, we would decrease dementia cases by 1 million per year! Over 10% of adults 65 and older, and more than 50% of those past 80 have some sort of cognitive impairment.” And with these stats that take one’s breath away faster than an elliptical machine on an incline, expert presenter, Fabio Comana opened his talk, Brain Fitness.
“If you want to live longer, work in 20 minutes daily of cardio activity.” And if you want to know what’s going on in those added years, “a mere 8-12 minutes a day of aerobic exercise improves cognition.” You want to be smart and minimize dementia in your later years? Take Fabios’s advice. Don’t just think about moving. Move to think!
So I did. Over to the next session with one of my favorite presenters, Shari Kalkstein who specializes in physical function for people 70 and older. Also known as “parents of baby boomers.” Am I right? If you want your parents (insert “yourself when older”) to be independent and active as long as possible, then Shari’s protocols and warnings are important. (Click on her links to see exercises, assessments, and practical tips).
Her session, I’ve Fallen, made a strong case for preventing falls and setting up the home to account for them when they happen. And they will. “More than 18,000 older adults died from injuries related to falls in 2007. In 2008, more than 2 million older adults were treated in emergency rooms due to fall injuries.” Wonder where most falls occur? In the home, where, as Shari says, “we have complete control over our environment.” Like her, my sis and I have lots of practical moves and solutions to address this reality.
After I’ve Fallen, I moseyed my way to The Future of Fitness Technology with Marco Della Torre. Spoiler alert – I earned an IDEA Fitness Inspiration Medal by correctly answering his stumper question. And talk about a coincidence, turns out Marco is one of the co-founders of Basis, now owned by Intel, the company from which I won a Basis fitness and sleep tracker. So I won two technology related prizes in a row! Yup, it’s always worthwhile to get to the IDEA Trade Show between and after educational sessions. Anyway, wearable technology is big and about to go humongous! Ready to take advantage of fun high tech fitness gear? Check out a few of our posts on the subject:
Accepting and agreeing that fitness technology will wield an ever growing impact on our workout lives, I loved how Marco ended his talk: “The biggest trend coming in wearable tech is that new ideas and products will bring people closer, rather than driving them apart.” Think about that for a sec. Instead of seeing the top of people’s heads as they bend over their phones and pedometers, you’ll be in a new world of gadgets that connect you with others more and more.
Imagine a community of like-minded, actively aging, high-functioning people who interact personally via stuff not yet invented. Might you already have something close to this? It’s coming, so be ready to Inspire, Connect, and Transform! Or maybe you will Invent the next best thing that gets people to exercise and enjoy the benefits of lifelong movement. I’ll plug that!
By Kymberly Williams-Evans
Readers: What wearable tech do you already own? Use? What do you think of it? When is the last time you crawled? Not pub crawled, but crawled like an infant?
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
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Get Out of Here, Ya Hear?
A related Fun Fit Fact: People who live near or on coasts tend to be more physically active compared to inland dwellers. Those fortunate to have ocean views (actually any blue water works), also report being happier than people without access to blue spaces. One theory is that gazing at the ocean triggers the brain to release dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. We post-menopausal women know all about hormones, especially the mood elevating ones, right?
Remember to Laugh; Laugh to Remember
2. Add humor to your workout. Another great natural life source is laughter. Not only does laughter act as self-produced medicine, but also it is proving to help memory. The stress hormone, cortisol can cause brain damage. Cortisol negatively affects both memory and learning ability, especially in older adults. This raises the question, “can laughter, which reduces stress, therefore improve memory?”
Turns out that, yup — lower stress leads to better memory. You saw that coming.
Breathe Right with the Left
3. Take half breaths for a whole life. Really looking to keep your memory in high drive, and not idle as you age? Then try a special breathing technique just after your humor boost. When you forgot which aisle you parked your car in, or why you entered a room, kick into left nostril breathing. That’s right, just the left! Block or press shut your right nostril and inhale through the left. Exhale. Repeat. 27 times. Let’s hope this works as you have to remember to count as you breathe!
For you smarties and thinkers who are always a step ahead (and that would be all of you who subscribe to our blog), you probably already thought of something. What if you combine all three activities? Run, walk, jog, mosey outdoors with a person who makes you laugh as you count up 27 left nostril breaths. Then get back to us in the comments to report what happened. Join the nature movement; free membership!
And take a look at this very short animation.
You got this far, so why not add a comment?
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Take a look at the following images I used in the presentation I gave last week at Rancho la Puerta Fitness Spa located in Tecate, MX. The Ranch is so wonderful and special that I wanted to make sure my session was as valuable. If memory serves me right, the following 7 factors will improve your recall, memory, attention span, and focus. ha ha ha Oh, and my presentation was well received too!
Before you get to those 7 things you can do to gain for the brain to the max, note that the key is to engage in CARDIO activity. While ALL exercise is thought to improve cognitive skills, cardio is top doggie. If you combine cardio with any of the 7 factors coming right up, you are getting exponential return on your exercise investment.
Yup, cardio has more benefit for your gray matter than crossword puzzles, learning a new language, sudoku, and international travel (though these are all helpful). Say, click that link <—- to read about how smart Nepal made me.
And we mean it. Steps as small as going left instead of right, or working out a different day or time than usual all register as new in the brain.
Hmm, are you starting to get any ideas about what kind of cardio activity might be best if your priority is to boost your brain?
The midline is the the line that visually divides your body into a left and right side side. If your right arm reaches to your left side, you have crossed the midline, for example.
Want a summary image you can pin? So do we! Pin away my hearties!
And on that final note, zzzzzzz. Or semi-final note. If you want to experience this presentation in its entirety, come to Tenaya Lodge’s Wellness and Spa Retreat Jan 16-18, 2015. That’s another smart move!
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
One of the most interesting talks I attended at the recent Natural Products Expo West (NPEW), was a talk on improving memory given by Marilu Henner, sponsored by Ascenta. Best known as an actress, Marilu is also one of 12 people in the world identified as having Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), which is the ability to recall the slightest details of nearly every day of life. In short, Marilu can remember almost EVERYTHING in her life, even baby experiences. Believe me, people in the audience were trying to stump her by throwing out dates and asking what day of the week it occurred on and what was going on at that time. Or they had met her once backstage at a play she was in and wondered if she remembered that meeting. She did — listing even what they both wore, ate, said, and saw. Whoa! Would you want that ability, or even some of it? I wouldn’t mind having SDAM (Sorta Decent Autobio Memory).
Marilu claims we all have the capability to “Receive, Retain, and Retrieve” more memories. Which prompts again the question: Why would we want to recall more memories, especially bad ones? Aside from avoiding dementia, (ok, that’s a pretty big “aside”), what is the value of having a brain full of memories? And how do we go about retrieving more of those hidden stories and events?
According to Marilu, developing a strong autobiographical memory is the best path to a more fulfilling life. She asserts that our memories offer meaning. Her memories inform why she is living each day. As well, she believes that bringing more memories into our awareness allows us to
If you see a connection between having a stronger memory and your life purpose, then you will want to do two things: read her tips below and buy her book, Total Memory Makeover.
Using Marilu’s suggestions, not only can you stop memory decline, but also you can retrieve more memories to enrich your life. That’s the kind of active, health aging I can get behind. Now if only I could remember where I put the rest of my notes from the NPEW trade show and educational sessions!