Mental Health and the Importance of Exercise

21st September 2016

Mental Health and the Importance of Exercise

In honour of World Alzheimer’s Day, this post focuses on the necessity of remaining physically active and keeping a healthy diet in order to maintain better mental health.

Recent Research for Mental Health

Exercising increases the flow of blood to the brain, to the hippocampus area in particular, which allows for neurons and cells to remain healthy. The increased flow of blood to the brain prevents the hippocampus area from shrinking, which is the first region of the brain to shrink in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Research conducted at the University of Maryland School of Public Health has reaffirmed the fact that being less physically active is linked to higher chances of developing cognitive problems such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, their research goes a step further as it reveals that even for older adults (between 50-80 years of age) who are active — stopping exercise for even 10 days leads to a significant decrease in blood flow to several brain regions that are important for maintaining cognitive health, such as the hippocampus. Therefore, maintaining your exercise routine is just as important as having one to begin with!

Benefits of Exercise

According to research from the Alzheimer’s Association, exercise:

  1. slows the decline in thinking skills (delays the shrinking of the hippocampus)
  2. reduces stress
  3. could help improve symptoms of depression
  4. reduces the risk of falls

The most beneficial exercises for maintaining good physical and cognitive health are those that increase your heart rate for a period of 20 to 30 minutes, such as:

  1. aerobics classes
  2. yoga
  3. walking
  4. cycling
  5. playing tennis

This may seem intimidating but you can even start with a short 10 to 15 minute exercise and work your way up at your own pace! It is never too late to start exercising or delaying the deterioration of cognitive health! However, make sure to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

For the best results, ensure that you are following a healthy diet along with your exercise routine. Current research suggests that heart-healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet are ideal for those with cognitive issues. Mediterranean diets consist of:

  1. fish, white meat and very small amounts of red meat
  2. high amounts of wholegrain bread, pasta and brown rice
  3. fruits and vegetables
  4. nuts, seeds, olive oil and other healthy fats

The benefits of this diet are only realised when there is a balance of each food group, so ensure that your recipes take this into account.

R Jaura