Our bodies are hardwired to move. We want to move, but over the years, we have become more sedentary through various aspects of our lifestyle, from the way we navigate our world to how we seek out purposeful physical exercise for our health. Ultimately, our brains need our bodies to move.
But what is physical movement? Simply put, physical exercise is moving your body for overall health and wellness. There are four types of physical exercise that benefit our optimal health: strength, balance, flexibility and endurance, also known as aerobic exercise (raises your heart rate). Research shows that engagement in all four types of exercises demonstrates the most health benefits for adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some immediate and long-term health benefits of physical exercise include:
– Improves sleep quality
|1. Brain Health
– Reduces risks of developing dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) and reduces risk of depression
|2. Less Anxiety
– Reduces feelings of anxiety
|2. Heart Health
– Lowers risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
|3. Blood Pressure
– Reduces blood pressure
|3. Cancer Prevention
-Lowers risk of eight cancers: bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach
|*Emerging research suggests physical activity may also help boost immune function
|4. Healthy Weight
– Reduces risk of weight gain
|5. Bone Strength
– Improves bone health
|6. Balance and Coordination
– Reduces risks of falls
Physical Exercise and the Brain
Physical exercise powers our brains. Your brain is rather demanding in regards to its requirements to perform its various complex functions and tasks. For example, your brain utilizes 20% of the blood, oxygen and nutrients from every single heartbeat. Our body has learned how to prioritize the unique needs of our brains for optimal function.
Physical exercise gets blood flowing to the brain, which can provide multiple benefits, including a boost in attention, memory, processing speed, decision-making, as well as a lift in mood. The benefits may depends on the type of exercise performed and the duration of the exercise, but it is well-documented that physical exercise is important for good health.
Physical activity grows new brain cells, referred to as neurogenesis (discussed in a previous blog.) Physical exercise promotes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), also referred to as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain, which is critical for the maintenance of healthy neurons and creating new neurons, as well. Essentially, exercise can grow your brain and also protect it against damage. Moving our bodies has the ability to shape both our brains and our physiques.
How Much Movement?
The end goal for adults and aging adults is to meet the universal 150 minutes of moderate movement per week with the inclusion of two days of muscle-strength training for a mix of activity to stay healthy. Nearly 80% of Americans do not meet this suggested minimal requirement. Breaking up a large goal into smaller achievable steps can help make physical exercise part of our daily routine and build habits that set us up for success in the long run.
Aiming for 30 minutes of physical movement per day can be broken into 3x 10-minute sessions or 2x 15-minute sessions as a way to get started. Additionally, individuals can begin with a few minutes of movement and gradually work their way up to longer intervals or more frequent intervals with their healthcare providers for guidance to begin. It is not too late to get moving or add movement to our daily routines.
What’s the Best Exercise?
There are large bodies of research to support various types of exercise, including aerobic exercise, walking, yoga, Tai Chi and others for a variety of health boosting benefits. The “best” exercise would be to select one with your healthcare provider that meets you today with any health circumstance or conditions that should be considered. Then, pick an exercise that you enjoy so you will stick with it.
Exercise programs fail for the vast majority of people who start them within the first few months and even more so for people over a year or five-years long-term. Starting with a program that supports both your health and interest is a great place to begin, as there is always room to add in something else down the road and to work towards maintenance of a current physical activity routine. We are all different, but there is a wide variety of movement programs to support your physical health to move more.
How to Add Movement to your Day
A very simple way to add more movement to your day is to sit less and stand more (if you are able to do so). Most Americans sit way too much (an average of 6.5-10 hours a day) and this number keeps creeping up! Noteworthy: sitting for six to eight hours per day is as dangerous as smoking a pack of cigarettes and we recognize how detrimental this can be for both our brain health and physical health. (Smoking tops the list of one of the 12 brain health risks factors. This should likely go without saying but stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.)
A simple technique to try is the “sit-stand-switch” philosophy, where you rotate between sitting and/or standing every 30 minutes or so for optimal health. Even taking a few-minute break from sitting at least every hour can offer benefits. For example, stand a little longer after using the restroom during a commercial break if you can or think of other ways to add standing to your day. (Please try this only if you are able to do so safely.)
The “sit-stand-switch” technique also endorses brain breaks for wellbeing. Take five-minute brain breaks between sitting/standing to prevent fatigue. A brain break should be purposeful engagement in a brief, meaningful exercise or activity and a “break” from other tasks that require concentration and focus. Following a brain break, you should experience an uplift in mood and motivation. Take multiple brain breaks daily.
Essentially, listen to your body as it guides you to think it, move it, do it.
- 5 minutes of physical movement can offer health benefits
- 10 minute walks offer brain benefits (mental focus)
- 30 minutes of movement per day is the goal
We have the ability to move in various ways for our optimal brain health. Both our bodies and our brains benefit from movement. Move daily and often to reap the mood-lifting benefits of natural movement as part of your daily routine.
In Brain Health & Wellness,
P.S.- Curious how often you sit? Calculate your daily sitting time online here. (Maybe stand while you fill it out, if you can.)
Images from Canva