Physical activity keeps your mind sharp now — and later Having a sharp brain well into your senior years starts with healthy habits — like exercising — in your 20s’. “Young people might not consider the immediate and long-term positive effects that exercise can have on their brain, but exercise helps to keep our brains and hearts strong so we can be sharp and independent well into our golden years,” said Mitchell Elkind, M.D., M.S., associate professor of neurology and epidemiology in Columbia University’s Stroke Division in New York, New York.
Results from recent research support Elkind’s point:
- In a study of 120 women ages 18 to 35, researchers found that higher fitness levels are linked to better attention, learning, working memory and problem solving.
- Another study found that people ages 18 to 30 who had high levels of blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and cholesterol at the study’s start or 10 years into it scored much lower on cognitive testing at the study’s end, when they were an average 50 years old.
The findings suggest that these risk factors that cause stroke and heart disease can also cause dementia and build up over the years.
“Risk factors for stroke, heart disease and other illnesses like dementia start as early as our 20s and 30s and builds over time, causing mental and/or physical decline as we age,” Elkind said. You don’t have to exercise vigorously. In fact, you can benefit from any regular physical activity, including something as simple as walking — which is free, safe and easy.
You can also help your heart and brain by adopting these healthy behaviors:
- Prevent or control high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Eat healthy.
- Sleep well.
- Limit alcohol.
- Control your weight.
- Don’t smoke, or quit if you do.
The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association has resources to help you adopt and maintain healthy behaviors to keep your brain sharp and healthy.