10 Great Workouts That Make You Smarter, Too

Do you want to retain your “smarts” as you age? While brain games have captured the minds of people who love to play games and puzzles, debate continues over whether this activity alone can enhance cognitive fitness. And, while some individuals believe that intelligence is a matter of genetic inheritance, this does not explain the entire scenario about who can avoid declining cognitive health. Instead, a powerful link between physical activity and mental acuity is emerging.

You don’t need to hire a trainer to achieve mental fitness, however. Simple efforts, over time, can lower the risk of cognitive decline. But, if you’re more intent on keeping fit, you’ll reap benefits that can last for years. Conducting activity that makes you breathless and sweaty two times per week at midlife can result in a reduced risk of dementia later in life.

If this connection between mind and body does not make sense to you, think about the connection between non-activity and disease. A couch potato has a higher risk of cardiovascular-related death, type II diabetes, colon and breast cancer and osteoporosis. Some of those diseases, such as stroke, diabetes and cancer, have been associated with compromised cognition.

Therefore, if you want to stay on top of your game in your later years, you can begin exercising now to reap the benefits later. Even short exercise activities have been shown to restore some loss in brain volume associated with normal aging. But, your attitude is a factor as well.

It has been shown that individuals who are open to new experiences and who are positively motivated and goal-directed often undergo successful aging and maintain a sense of well-being when facing challenges. On the other hand, the depressed, anxious, and negative individual who holds on to old hurts and anger tend to experience an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment as they age.

Trainers may tell you this – when you begin to exercise, that activity also can change your mood. Instead of concentrating on anger, you can diffuse that emotion and replace it with pride in accomplishment. And in the process, you can age more gracefully.

Before you begin any physical exercise, check with your doctor to make sure that you can train for a triathlon straight from the couch, or if you need to start slow by walking. Age is not a factor here, as many 70-year-old individuals can swim for miles, where a 20-year-old may not be able to walk for a city block. Start slow, enjoy the pace, and you may learn to love your new health routines.

The following list of activities can help maintain cognitive health and provide you with a sense of well-being as well as help you to become mentally and physically fit. The activities are arranged from the least physically difficult to the most difficult. As you accomplish each goal, you can then add another goal. The links at the beginning of an activity lead to routines or information about how to accomplish each goal.

  1. Reading: Reading can not only stimulate brain activity but it can – in some cases – keep you from losing your cognitive health; therefore, we’ve provided you with the reading list compiled by the creators of SharpBrains. Web reading can influence your brain as well.
  2. Puzzles, Games and Brainstorming: One study shows that rapid thinking makes people happy. Happy people like to move around, because they feel more energetic and powerful. So, use an easy crossword puzzle or brain-storming session to get the blood flowing, then take a walk or workout.
  3. Socialize: When a person participates in activities that involve social interaction (such as doing volunteer work or attending the local chamber meeting), that person is less prone to think about himself. Also, the number of friends and relatives an individual contacts regularly and marital status may influence mood, but studies have not shown conclusive evidence.
  4. Walking: Walking distance, rather than speed, seems to be the key in building and maintaining cognitive health. One study, focused on women aged 70 to 81 years, showed that long-term regular physical activity, including walking, is associated with significantly better cognitive function and less cognitive decline in older women. If it works for women, it probably works for men, too.
  5. Aerobics: Kick it up a notch to improve memory and more with aerobic exercises. A team at Duke University Medical Center in 1999 demonstrated that aerobic exercises such as biking and jogging were just as effective as medication in treating depression as it was in improving patients’ cognitive abilities.
  6. Water Exercises: Water exercise is great for older folks, for pregnant women and for people who have sustained injuries. This link provides a workout for your back, but you can join a local group at the Y or other fitness club to learn more. Water exercising also helps folks get out more and socialize, which is great for cognitive (and emotional) health in many cases.
  7. Ballroom, Hip-Hop or other Dancing Classes: Dance classes can work your muscles and your brain as you learn new steps required for each dance style. Even if you want to dance alone at home, you can practice with videos like the one linked here.
  8. Sports: Although it may be difficult to carry that pigskin a few yards when you’re over 60, younger folks can participate in activities such as tennis, volleyball and more. Even the elderly can get in on a game or two as long as tackling isn’t involved. Plus, anyone can take advantage of the stretching (warm-up) exercises provided through this link, as these movements will protect your muscles during sports and keep you limber otherwise.
  9. Weight Training: Building muscle is just as important as cardio exercises. But you don’t need to lift 300 pounds or make the Olympics your goal. Leg and arm weights, along with smaller dumb bells, can build muscle too.
  10. Triathlon Training: You don’t need to compete in a triathlon to train for one. This type of training involves reading, fast thinking, socializing, cardiovascular fitness, weight training and stretching. Even a couch potato can train for a triathlon in this link’s 22-week program. See if that doesn’t make you feel smart!
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