Slim Down And Brain Up: How To Keep Your Mind And Body Running

by Peter Muller

Fact: cardiovascular exercise is integral to staying in-shape and healthy.  We all know this.  Whether it’s your doctor harping on the subject or just that reflection in the mirror serving as a constant reminder, without a steady regiment of cardio, our bodies just grow rounder and each flight of stairs gets tougher to scale.  Keeping a steady workout routine is tough, especially when work, school, recreation, and entertainment get thrown into the mix.

Struggling to put down that cheeseburger?  You’re in good company.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in America has seen a dramatic increase over the last twenty years.  Furthermore, it has more than doubled in the last 30 years!

No matter which group you belong to; those who eat, breathe, and sleep at the gym or those who just eat; we all think of exercise in the same terms: work out, stay healthy, look good, be confident.  Even recent research on cardiovascular exercise continues to reiterate these points.  Now, there’s a new reason to get on board with exercise:  According to a 2006 study at the University of Illinois – Urbana, cardiovascular aerobic exercise helps keep your brain healthy as you age, too.  Add that to the list of reasons to start a running regiment tomorrow.

In the study, researchers looked at the brain activity of fifty-nine adults aged 60-79 via MRI scans over the course of six months; with half the group participating in regular aerobic exercise and the other half not.  To their surprise, the group that participated in a regular aerobic routine had a significant increase in brain volume in only those six months!  Although this study concentrated on older adults, the message is clear: there is a direct connection between a cardiovascular workout and the health of your brain.

“Our results suggest that brain volume loss is not an inevitable effect of advancing age and that relatively minor interventions can go a long way in offsetting and minimizing brain volume loss.”

In an earlier study, researchers had found that the brains of adults active in cardiovascular exercise throughout their lives were better preserved than the brains of those who did not.  Although this fact may no longer seem significant given the newer research above, it’s important to know that the benefits associated with sudden increases in brain volume are still unknown.  So, in essence, it’s still better to start exercising early in life, ensuring you keep the brains you already have.

Loss in brain volume as you age is associated with many common disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, long-term memory loss, and decrease in general intelligence and cognitive ability; all symptoms I’d prefer to do without.

In the end, your doctor and your reflection’s nagging urge to get rid of those few extra pounds have been correct; you’re better off making time for that workout in your daily schedule.  Except now, it’s your brain urging you to workout and save the gray matter in addition to your butt telling you to lose the “gravy matter.”  Bikini season may be over, but there’s never a season for muffin top.  Use whatever reasoning gets your ass in the gym.

“Aerobic Exercise Training Increases Brain Volume In Aging Humans”
by: Stanley J. Colcombe, Kirk I. Erickson, Paige E. Scalf, Jenny S. Kim, Ruchika Prakash, Edward McAuley, Steriani Elavsky, David X. Marquez, Liang Hu, and Arthur F. Kramer.
Beckman Institute & Department of Psychology and Department of Kinesiology
University of Illinois, Urbana.
Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES
2006, Vol. 61A, No. 11, 1166–1170

“Aerobic Fitness Reduces Brain Tissue Loss in Aging Humans”
by: Stanley J. Colcombe, Kirk I. Erickson, Naftali Raz, Andrew G. Webb, Neal J. Cohen, Edward McAuley, and Arthur F. Kramer
Beckman Institute – University of Illinois, Urbana
Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES
2003, Vol. 58A, No. 2, 176–180

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