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Forget exercising to fit into a dress size, look at that as a coincidental benefit. New research now suggests that exercise causes changes in the brain that boost memory and thinking skills. Additionally, let us not forget that exercise reduces the odds of developing a battery of lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, blood pressure, and stroke.

We have heard this before, so let us look at how exercise can get the brain working better. After all, who wants to deal with brain fog when we get older? Age comes with its own set of health issues, and if we have to protect our minds, let us start the journey today. 

In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the type that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, seems to boost the size of the 
hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training and other exercises do not have the same results. 

Researchers from the University also pointed out that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and that regular physical activity may improve the performance of daily activities for people afflicted with the disease. 

At a time when dementia is highly prevalent and is it estimated that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide, this study seems extremely pertinent.

Top neurologist in Dubai, Dr Sohail Al Rukn, President of Emirates Neurological Society and neurologist at Rashid Hospital, explains that exercise is known to help brain health and over the years’ research after research is reinforcing the same thing. 

“It is a known fact that parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who do not,” he said. “Exercise fosters the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells; it helps stimulate blood vessels in the brain, and even in developing new brain cells. Brain health decreases, as we get older. 

Since aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume it can help maintain brain age.” If this doesn’t get you running, maybe knowing that exercise will put you in a good mood will. “Exercise also helps the body release chemicals called endorphins,” said Dr Rukn. 

“Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body. Regular exercise is known to improve your mood, reduce stress, reduce anxiety and even depression and improve sleep.” The golden question is what type of activity or 
exercise should one follow. “This research talks about aerobic exercises and while it is important,  it’s also good to mix up your exercise to include resistance training so that the workout is balanced,” said Dr Rukn. 

“This will help achieve overall good health. The research has looked at walking and participants walked briskly for one hour, twice a week. However, it’s important to note that this was for research purpose. Generally, standard recommendations advise half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or 150 minutes a week. 

“There are so many options for aerobic exercises and if individuals have other health problems its best to seek doctor’s advice before chalking out an exercise regime.”

Whatever exercise and motivators you choose, commit to establishing exercise as a habit, almost like taking a prescription medication. “Think there needs to be a mind-set change, especially in terms of understanding the right reasons for exercising,” said Dr Rukn. 

“The younger generation seems to be hooked on to achieving a certain body shape, size and so on. And while it is good to have goals, I think it is better to think of making exercise a regular habit.

Once that is achieved, getting into shape, physical and mental health become incidental. “He added a word of caution: “While exercise is important, healthy nutrition, mindfulness and adequate sleep are also very important.”