As people age I would venture to say that almost everyone lives in dread of the possibility of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It is a horrible disease that virtually destroys a person while they are still living. It rips a person away from loved ones while they yet live. It destroys much more than the patient. It destroys a family. It seems that there is no effective preventative treatment or cure. What, then, is a person to do to minimize their risk of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis? Perhaps exercising the brain is one helpful preventative measure.

Brain exercise is reported by doctors to actually prevent many age related brain diseases. Doctors in Finland believe that specific brain exercises trigger the brain’s production of the protein “brain derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). BDNF production creates new neurons.

Unlike fingers and toes, humans are not born with a finite number of brain cells. Certain parts of the brain develop neurons continuously through the process neurogenesis. The hippocampus, the brain’s memory bank, is one such part of the brain that continues to make new brain cells. One way to keep the hippocampus healthy is running.

Researchers study the effects upon the brain of endurance training, running and weight training. Of all the exercises, running resulted in the brain producing the highest number of new neurons. High intensity workouts seemed to create stress factors that inhibited neuron production. Weight training actually produced neuron levels equivalent to what was produced by the researchers sedentary control group.  So, for optimum brain health, skip the weights and go for a jog or engage in any aerobic activity.

By performing aerobic exercise for at least twenty minutes, the body can transform the brain. As heart rate increases the brain becomes more oxygenated. Brain cells become richly nourished. Aerobic exercise also stimulates production of healthy hormones that help the brain produce new, healthy brain cells. When new brain cell growth is stimulated not only do the capabilities of the hippocampus improve for learning and memory, but an anti-depressant effect is experienced.

Mental exercise is just as important for brain health as physical exercise.  Any time a person learns a new thing, they are performing mental exercise. Why not pair the two, physical and mental exercise. Learn something new like ballroom dancing or go to an aerobics class and learn the routine being taught by the instructor.

Virtually any exercise that is good for the body is going to be beneficial for the brain. Aerobic activity is, perhaps, the best choice because by improving circulation, the brain is “refreshed”.  Morning exercise routines typically produce the best results. If you can’t hit the gym or the weather outside prevents a run or power walk, do some calisthenics indoors like jumping jacks.

More indoor activities that are good for the brain but not necessarily physical are any crafts or puzzles or games that engage critical thinking skills, a bit of mathematics, et. Measure and piece together fabric shapes to create quilts. Put together a complicated jigsaw puzzle. Play a game of cards with a loved one. The important thing is to keep the brain busy, active and challenged.