An article in the most current Fitness Journal (Idea Health & Fitness Association) claims that overwhelming research shows that cognitive function in old age reflects how people live: nutrition, stress, environment, physical activity, relationships and individual views on ageing play a role. Recent advances in neuroscience suggest that ageing adults retain their ability to improve neural networks and cognitive function – a concept scientists call neuroplasticity.
Both aerobic and resistance exercise of a moderate to high intensity are good for the brain, and it seems that a combination of the two is most powerful. Aerobic exercise has been shown to stimulate a protein (brain-derived neurotrophic factor if you want to know) key to neural development and functioning and memory. Resistance exercise has been studied less, but studies suggest stimulation of neurogenesis (nerve tissue growth) through increase of a different factor (immunoglobulin factor). The interaction of both leads to the formation of new pathways in the brain and formation of new blood cells.
Apparently the most effective strategy for exercising to improve brain health could be a combination of physical exercise with cognitive challenges, i.e. exercise where you have to constantly think, anticipate, adjust, respond to and coordinate movements to accomplish a task, keeping the brain fully engaged with the body. Examples are tai chi, dance and exercise to music classes, agility drills, obstacle courses or any complex movement patterns. Learning a new sport combines simultaneous challenges to your brain and body.
Grab your sweatbands and a leotard and head down to the nearest aerobics class to keep your brain alive and kicking!