Lost your car keys? Forgotten the reason you walked into a room? Don’t fret – you haven’t lost your mind. You just need to fine-tune your brain. An unhealthy brain impacts your memory, causing you to forget that those keys are in your coat pocket or that you entered the office to grab a pen. To stay as sharp as a tack, you need a regular routine of both mental and physical exercise.
Physical activity can help control your weight, boost your energy and improve your self-esteem. But physical exercise isn’t just for increasing endurance and building muscle; it also bulks up your brain.
“Physical exercise increases the quantity and connection of neurons in your brain, which can help improve memory,” says Yogesh Shah, M.D., associate dean of global affairs and director of the Memory Clinic at Des Moines University. “It acts as a growth hormone for your entire body. Whatever’s good for the biceps is good for the brain.”
The prescription for a healthy body and brain is 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. Varying your workouts is key. By performing a different routine, not only will you work different muscles groups, but also different parts of the brain.
Mental exercise is equally important. It increases blood circulation to the areas of the brain where memories are formed and stored. Any form of new learning will do the trick, but Shah recommends a form of cognitive exercises called neurobics.
“Neurobics encourage the growth of new neurons in the brain,” explains Shah. “It’s using all of your senses whenever possible and doing things slightly different than what the brain is used to.”
Routine actions become automatic, requiring little effort from the brain. Neurobics help create new associations between different parts of the mind by engaging it in an unexpected way. Activities as simple as driving a different way home, getting dressed with your eyes closed or using your left hand instead of your right stimulate the brain and improve mental health.
The next time you get in an aerobic workout, don’t forget the neurobics. A double dose of exercise will keep your brain healthy and your memory sharp.