Exercise isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your mind

Me with my cruiser, who recently earned the nickname Sweet Lady Blue.

Me with my cruiser, who recently earned the nickname Sweet Lady Blue.

I started having knee pain last summer. It came from a combination of sitting in less-than-ergonomic positions as I worked at home and trying to take up running.

I tried to manage it with stretching, ice and ibuprofen, but since life in New York means daily walking, it seemed to get worse, not better. Finally I went to the doctor, which lead to three months of physical therapy several times a week.

That didn’t eliminate the ache, but it did lessen it.

What seems to have done the trick was daily bike riding in New Orleans. We’re renting an apartment in a lovely residential neighborhood, and going out often means a half hour bike ride there and back. My dad, a longtime runner, had suggested cycling would strengthen my knee and get rid of the pain, and here’s a case where father knew best.

Just as I was realizing biking might have cured my knee, I read an article on the New York Times website that suggested my body wasn’t the only beneficiary. They reported on two studies showing exercise can improve memory.

In one study, published in The Journal of Aging Research, scientists at the University of British Columbia studied women ages 70-80 with mild cognitive impairment. For six months, some of the women lifted weights twice a week, others briskly walked, still others stretched and toned.

The women who had walked or done weight training performed better on almost all of the cognitive tests after six months. The women who walked improved their verbal memory more than those who lifted weights.

A second study of exercise and memory, published in the journal Neuroscience, looked at rats that either ran on wheels or did something approximating weight lifting — if you consider strapping weights to a rat’s tail weight lifting.

Rats in both groups scored better on memory tests after six weeks, scientists at the Psychobiology and Exercise Research Center in São Paulo, Brazil, found.

Plus researchers found the runner rats had more of a protein associated with supporting the health of existing neurons and with the creation of new brain cells, while the “weight trainer” rats had more of a different protein, this one associated with cell division and helping new neurons thrive.

The Times article concluded:

What all of this new research suggests, says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia who oversaw the experiments with older women, is that for the most robust brain health, it’s probably advisable to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training. It seems that each type of exercise “selectively targets different aspects of cognition,” she says, probably by sparking the release of different proteins in the body and brain.

… “When we started these experiments,” she says, “most of us thought that, at best, we’d see less decline” in memory function among the volunteers who exercised, which still would have represented success. But beyond merely stemming people’s memory loss, she says, “we saw actual improvements,” an outcome that, if you’re waffling about exercising today, is worth remembering.

So my knee is feeling better, and maybe my brain is, too.  Read more about how exercise might help your brain — but maybe go for a bike ride first, so you can remember the details.

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Categories: health and well being, lifestyle

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3 replies

  1. I exercise at “curves” the gym for women. Most of the women there are in their 70’s or 80’s and they are sharp! They love to discuss books they’ve read or articles they read in the Wall Street Journal. I hope to be like them one day.

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