Brains and Brawn: Workouts That Sharpen Mental Function
More people are beginning to structure their workout routines around enhancing aspects of mental function, including memory and focus. Focusing on specific cognitive goals often impacts the types of exercise they do.
The Mind-Body Connection
Facilities such as The Peak Brain Institute offer consultations in which participants can be tested in a number of ways, including “brain mapping.” The results help determine strengths and weaknesses in areas having to do with brain function.
If you have specific concerns about your own declining cognitive function, your doctor can set up the appropriate tests. Otherwise, just determining areas in which you want to improve, whether it be “a better attention span in the late afternoon” or “improved problem-solving ability,” can help guide how and when you exercise.
The Key is Cardio
When it comes to boosting cognitive power, cardio is king! Aerobic exercise performed at least twice a week has been linked with higher mental function in adults of all ages. In studies, older adults who kept up cardio workouts like walking and water aerobics had lower incidences of dementia.
For some people, high intensity interval workouts (HIIT) may be even better than traditional cardio. Both aerobic workout types deliver mind-boosting circulation power. But HIIT kickstarts brain cell function at an even higher rate. Varying the speeds at which you work out delivers not just higher-functioning mitochondria. It also exercises your mind rather than “zoning out” while jogging. With HIIT workouts, you’re tracking time spent at various intensity levels, or when it’s time to switch activity stations.
Don’t Get Locked Into a Formula
While vigorous workouts obviously have scientifically-proven links to boosting brain power, don’t be afraid to chart your own cognitive improvement path. For example, if you and/or your medical team believe that stress is short-circuiting your ability to concentrate, yoga might be a calming step towards higher cognitive function.
Perhaps your weakness lies in problem-solving skills? Next weekend, take a friend on a geocaching hike or scavenger race. For these, you need to work both your brain and your body in order to find the treasure.
Not sure which type of workout will enhance your particular cognitive goal? A combination of exercise types deliver a range of physical benefits. At the same time, experimenting allows you to determine which workouts deliver those extra “smartie” points!
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