It’s not just mental exercises that are important for keeping your brain healthy. At my memory clinic, I urge patients to get daily physical exercise, even if it’s only a 20-minute walk. The scientific evidence is compelling that cardiovascular conditioning improves brain health and efficiency.
However, many people have a hard time getting started. For instance, my patient Carol had moved to Southern California after retirement to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. She came to see me because her memory seemed to have gotten worse since the move.
A medical evaluation showed that there was nothing physically wrong with Carol. Her diminished memory was simply the result of normal aging.
I recommended some memory exercises along with regular aerobic conditioning like a daily walk in the morning or after dinner.
At her next visit, Carol still had her memory complaints and admitted that she hadn’t followed up on many of my recommendations, especially the exercise. She was just too busy taking the grandkids to the park and doing errands to help her daughter.
I suggested, among other things, that she buy a pedometer, which would keep track of the number of steps she walked every day. It might surprise her how much exercise she was getting just going to the park and doing the errands.
She gave the pedometer a try and was impressed with how much exercise she was getting. It also motivated her to do an additional 20-minute walk every day. Her memory started to improve.
There are many technologies that can help people boost their physical health. In fact, anything that gets the heart pumping oxygen and nutrients to our neurons will make our brains more efficient. And simply getting feedback from a device like a pedometer is an effective way to motivate many people. Others use heart rate monitors while getting their cardiovascular workout.
If you can’t walk outside, take advantage of other technologies, such as treadmills, rowing machines, stationary bikes, or elliptical machines. It is also possible to combine brain training with physical training. Some people watch television, read a book, or listen to music while exercising.
You can also play word games or use brain exercise applications on smart phones or tablets during a physical workout — thereby combining your mental and physical workouts.
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