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Dr. Gary Small, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry and aging and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Small, one the nations top brain health experts, frequently appears on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Dr. Oz Show. He is co-author with his wife Gigi Vorgan of many popular books, including The New York Times best-seller, The Memory Bible, and The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. He is author of The Mind Health Report newsletter.

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Dr. Gary Small, M.D.

Tags: exercise | Alzheimers | BDNF | endorphins | walking

Doesn't Take Much to Improve Brain Health

Friday, 23 May 2014 02:43 PM

By Dr. Small

Some people claim that they simply don’t have enough time in their daily lives to commit to the kind of exercise regimen that would benefit their cardiovascular and brain health. But you don’t have to become a triathlete to gain mind health benefits from exercise. Harvard scientists have shown that just 15 minutes of brisk daily walking can delay age-related mental decline and lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
 
In addition, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois have shown that older walkers not only have better cognitive abilities but larger brains as well — and a bigger brain is a better brain.
 
Dr. Arthur Kramer and his associates at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois have compared middle-age and older walkers to control subjects who stretch and tone without doing any cardiovascular exercise. Over a six-month period, walkers demonstrated greater blood flow in neural circuits that control spatial ability and complex reasoning than the stretching and toning group.
 
We experience several physiological responses to exercise. First, it releases endorphins — the natural feel-good hormone — throughout the brain. This is the reaction that brings on a so-called “runner’s high.”
 
Regular exercise routines also improve blood circulation so that much-needed nutrients and oxygen can better nourish our brain cells. This increased brain blood flow stimulates new connection sites between brain cells, which make them more responsive to outside stimuli. Exercise also makes our bodies produce a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which heightens connections between neurons, allowing them to communicate more effectively.
 
As our physical exercise programs become part of our daily routines, our hearts, lungs, and circulatory systems will become more efficient. These benefits tend to lower our risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other age-related diseases that can damage brain cells.
 
Finally, all that exercise burns off calories, which helps control body weight and further lowers our risk for physical illnesses that can threaten mind health.

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