by Dr. Tony Alessandra
One of the best ways to improve brain function does not directly involve the brain at all. It involves the feet. Running, walking, or some form of aerobic exercise is absolutely essential for optimal brainpower. As we age, our brain cells — called neurons — lose their interconnections. These connections, or synapses, are essential to thought. However, there is now strong evidence we that exercise can not only head off mental decline, but also can even restore lost brain function. I can put this very simply: Fit people have sharper brains compared to people who are not fit. However, even people who are out of shape can make changes that benefit their brains. There is no question that working out makes you smarter, and it does so at all stages of life.
Exercise used to be a natural part of life, but today we have to consciously and mindfully build it into the daily routine. Incredibly enough, even walking is now considered a form of exercise. It used to just be the way to get from one place to another.
As it happens, walking is especially good for your brain, because it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous, so your leg muscles do not take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking can “clear your head” and help you to think better.
All this is well documented by research. At the University of Illinois, a study was done on a group of more than 200 men and women in their early 60s. They were basically healthy, but they were also classified as sedentary individuals. They had not been involved in any physical exercise for at least 5 years — and for most of them, it was much longer. Half of the subjects took long walks around the university three times a week, while the other half did light toning and stretching exercises. After six months, the walkers improved significantly in mental tests, as well as being more physically fit. An improvement of only 5-7% in cardio-respiratory fitness led to an improvement of up to 15% in mental tests. However, the non-walkers, despite the fact that they had done some exercise, did not gain any benefits for their brains.
Another study measured the brain function of nearly 6,000 women during an eight-year period. The results were correlated with the women’s routine walking and stair-climbing activities. Of the women who walked less than a half-mile per week), 24% had significant declines in their test scores over the eight years, compared to only 17% of the most active women. For every extra mile walked per week, there was a 13% less chance of cognitive decline. So, you do not have to be a marathon runner. Even a little exercise can do a lot of good.
And just as you can build brainpower through your feet, you can also do it through your stomach. For example, research in both animals and humans indicates that a calorie-restricted diet is helpful for both overall health and brain function. Eating wisely controls weight; decreases risk for heart
disease, cancer, and stroke. It also triggers mechanisms to increase the production of nerve growth factors, which are essential to for brain function.