FITNESS TIPS for BRAIN HEALTH © 2012 Nancy B. Emerson Lombardo, Ph.D.

Based on research to date, all forms of physical exercise are beneficial to brain health

A good weekly regimen would be:

(1) Walking or other aerobic (movement with breathing) exercise for 40 minutes, three times a week or more

(2) Resistance or strength training (using weights, machines or stretch bands) : 30 minutes/day for 2 or more days/week

(3) Stretching – at least once/week

  • Mice studies suggest the more the exercise, the better the positive effects on thinking.  Of course you need to leave time in your life for other brain healthy activities including having fun and laughing, let alone eating nutritious meals ideally with other people.
  • Physical exercise that involves other people and thinking are the best
  • Combining physical exercise with social engagement, mental challenge, or other brain healthy activities helps you maximize your time…such as walking or dancing with another person, or playing golf, tennis, team sports.
    • Complex activities are best for brain health  – involve physical activity and social interaction as well as cognitive challenge, are the best! (META-ANALYSIS of                           epidemiological studies – Fratiglioni, 2004 & Verghese, 2003 JAMA).   Examples using all 3: Golf, Dancing

TIP: Physical Exercise requires extra anti-oxidants and protein, so be sure to add these nutrients to your daily and weekly nutrition program when you increase exercise levels.


Here are two of the relevant studies indicating the “dosage” of exercise.


 Exercise Improves Cognitive Function in Older Adults-It’s Never Too Late!

  • Walking & Stretching with previously inactive older adults (age 60-75)(Kramer  Nature 1999):

–        Aerobic (walking) but not anaerobic (stretching/toning) improved performance on EXECUTIVE Function (being able to organize and plan actions and complex thoughts)

–        Both WALKING AND STRETCHING improved performance on other cognitive tasks

  • Both aerobic and combination (aerobic plus strength training) exercises improved cognitive function (Colcombe & Kramer  Psych. Science 2003)


–        Exercise sessions must be at least 30 minutes long.


Walking Increases Size of Hippocampus

  • Moderate walking 40 minutes, three times/week for 1 year  vs. control of stretching
  • Increases size of ANTERIOR hippocampus and improves spatial memory; related to increased BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor)
  • Hippocampus size measured by MRI scan
  • “Exercise training,  i.e. walking 40 minutes/day 3 times/week for 1 year:  increased hippocampal volume by 2%, effectively reversing age-related loss by 1 to 2 years.” (control group lost about 1.4 percent )
  • Erickson, Kramer et al. Jan 2011 PNAS   Based on Randomized Clinical Trial of 120 human older adults 65+ at University of Illinois led by Eric Kramer


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