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The Best Exercise for a Healthy Brain

The best exercise for a healthy brain isn’t usually what people think about when choosing a workout. Most of us focus on heart health or overall wellness. In case you’re wondering, cardiovascular exercise is the best for boosting your brain function.

Turns out, research supports the notion that sustained aerobic exercise offers more brain health benefits than strength training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). If cardio is your least favorite kind of exercise – but brain health is important to you – sneaking in a few days of biking, jogging, or swimming may be necessary.

How does cardio help the brain?

What, exactly, happens to your brain during continual cardiovascular exercise? According to Harvard Medical School, regular cardio exercise changes the brain to improve your critical thinking skills and memory.

During exercise, blood flow increases to your brain, exposing it to more oxygen and nutrients. Beneficial proteins also are released during continued cardiovascular activity.

Directly, exercise stimulates the brain’s ability to produce healthy brain cells and grow new blood vessels. What’s even cooler is it can act as a first aid kit to heal damaged brain cells, too. Indirectly, cardio can improve your mood and sleep, and reduce anxiety and stress. Simply put, when your brain is healthier, the rest of your body follows suit.

If you want to double the benefits of vigorous physical exercise, combine it with mentally stimulating activities like crossword puzzles or playing games. Looking for a cool way to combine both mental and physical activity for boosting your brain cells? Consider any style of dancing, which forces you to think and act at the same time (plus, it’s a lot of fun!).

What are the best kinds of cardio exercise?

Scientific outcomes have some very specific recommendations for the best kinds of cardio exercise for brain health. Not everyone likes the same things, so here are some options for aerobic workouts that can keep you interested while invigorating the old noggin.  

  • Biking – even on a stationary bicycle – increases blood flow to the brain. Whether you do it in the privacy of your home, or out on a bike trail in nature, the benefits are the same. So, choose your mode and start peddling!
  • Running is one of the best cardio exercises for the brain. A study conducted on mice revealed running improved the function and health of the synapses between neurons in the hippocampus. That’s the part of the brain responsible for storing memories and forming new ones.
  • Swimming is another cardiovascular exercise that’s good for the brain. If vigorous exercise like running is too painful for your joints, swimming is a good option. You reap all the same advantages for your brain without any stress on your joints.
  • Walking at a brisk pace can be just as stimulating to your brain as running (with less stress on your body). Some studies suggest fast walking boosts cardiovascular health and improves white matter and memory in the brain.

How do you calculate maximum heart rate?

Sustained cardio is great for your brain. However, you must check your heart rate to ensure you’re not exceeding the number of times your heart can safely beat during exercise before it causes negative health consequences.

Determining your healthy maximum heart rate is easy when you use this simple formula. Subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 35, your maximum heart rate is 185. If you’re 65, your maximum heart rate should never go beyond 155. Never exceed the limit during aerobic exercise.

Wearing a fitness watch or using a fitness app on your mobile phone is an efficient way to track your heart rate during exercise.

Does research support cardio for the brain?

Researchers have known for decades that exercise makes you smarter. To reap the benefits, you must get your heart rate up and keep it up for 75 minutes per week. That’s it. Super easy. Here are some other reasons why sustained cardio can benefit your health (and the science to back it up).

  1. It improves working memory
    An exercise intervention study in older adults associated greater aerobic fitness with improvements in working memory. One of the brain’s executive functions, working memory gives you the ability to hold onto information long enough to use it. Working memory is crucial for concentration and following instructions.
  2. It protects against memory impairment
    One study from the University of British Columbia linked regular aerobic exercise with verbal memory and learning improvement. The results offer hope for protecting against cerebrovascular disease – the second most common cause of dementia in older adults.

These are just two examples of the countless research available on this matter. If you’re still unsure about the benefits of sustained cardiovascular exercise for your brain, take some time to research the matter to learn more. Then, talk to your doctor about creating an exercise plan that works for you.

Strenuous workouts = sore muscles

Sustained aerobic exercise for up to 75 minutes per week can lead to sore muscles. That’s not a reason to avoid exercising. If you stop working out because it hurts, it can make the pain worse. It’s better to just do a lighter workout the next time to keep muscles active.

Additionally, there are plenty of natural ways to handle an aching body. Here are a few suggestions.

Alternate between heat and ice

Start with an ice pack on the sore muscle for 15 minutes, then switch to a moist heating pad for an additional 15 minutes. Ice restricts circulation to reduce swelling. Heat increases circulation to ease muscle stiffness. The combination can improve your range of motion and speed up recovery from pain.

Try an herbal relief formula

Spraying or rolling on a natural pain reliever works wonders for muscles getting used to exercise again. Premiere’s Pain Spray Mist starts to work the minute you spritz it on affected areas. You can use the roll-on version if you prefer more control over the application process. Both versions are blended with 7 percent menthol and offer fast, powerful relief without the side effects of prescription medications or the dangers of over-the-counter pain relievers.

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