She probably said something like: Alcohol kills brain cells, and YOU NEVER GET NEW BRAIN CELLS.
Well, guess what? It’s not true about never getting new brain cells – although the choices you make in life affect your brain health and even your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Experts have identified five “modifiable risk factors” – or behaviors you can change – to protect and even grow your brain, says clinical psychologist Marie Stoner.
She is also director or programming and a co-founder at Activate Brain and Body, a new fitness facility in Cincinnati that’s part of the growing effort to promote the link between physical fitness and brain health.
“You are getting new brain cells every day, especially in the hippocampus, which is your memory center,” she advises. “And you are in charge of whether those new neurons get brought on board and put into networks that help you defy the statistics or the family history you might be worried about.”
She cites a Lancet study that says we could lower worldwide Alzheimer rates by 40 percent through these personal behaviors.
What are they? Simple.
- Brain stimulation
- Social interaction
- Stress management
Stoner cites another large study from Great Britain showing that people who exercised the most had a 34 percent reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Even doing housework every day had a powerful effect.
“Physical activity is the best thing you can do for your brain,” she says.
The benefit grows even more when novel physical activity – something new to you – is combined with brain stimulation.
She and Activate’s CEO John Spencer say anyone can try out this theory. Just try a new physical movement – say, dance steps that you don’t know – with a cognitive task, like saying all the words you can think of that start with a certain letter.
Some exercises – like dancing and boxing – strengthen the brain by requiring mental focus.
The Journal of International Neuropsychological Society says just one exercise session can improve how our brains work and the part of memory that lets us recognize common information.
“Exercise can have rapid effects on brain function and … lead to long-term improvements in how our brains operate and we remember,” The New York Times wrote about the study. Science is finding that adult brains can be malleable, “rewiring and reshaping themselves in various ways, depending on our lifestyles.”
The mind-body connection is powerful. And you already know that exercise is good for your heart, lungs, weight, diabetes, and countless other physical issues.
In today’s stressful times, we need to take care of our whole selves – and physical exercise like you find in a gym or studio covers the gamut – body and brain alike.
Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.