Scientists have known for quite a while now that activities that are good for your heart are also good for your brain. Studies have shown that regular physical activity lowers the risk of dementia. This is because physical activity promotes healthy synapses, the small pockets of space in our brains that allow neurons to communicate. Another reason physical activity may aid in brain health is because exercise reduces age-related inflammation, which is thought to play a part in cognitive decline.

So, What Types of Exercise Are Best for Brain Health?

  1. Aerobic Exercise – This may include cycling, running, walking/hiking, swimming, etc. Aerobic activity boosts blood flow in the brain and increases the size of the hippocampus—the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.1.
  2. Weightlifting – When a person lifts weight, they are focused on performing specific movements. This focus turns on the neural circuits in their brain. One recent study found that “pumping iron” produced the best memory and cognition measurement results.
  3. Dancing – A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that regular dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%—twice as much as reading. And, even in patients with dementia, dancing improved cognitive function.
  4. Table Tennis – Seems to stimulate alertness and concentration. It helps with hand-eye coordination, and due to the fast-paced, short-distance nature of the game, both gross and fine muscle movements are improved.
  5. Yoga/Tai Chi – Studies have found that Yoga and Tai Chi are linked to better cognition and emotional well-being. These exercises trigger the release of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurochemical that regulates nerve activity. Increased GABA also leads to positive changes in mood.

Of course, these aren’t the only exercises that improve brain function. Studies have shown that any type of vigorous activity will positively improve the brain. So, get out there and exercise—not only for your heart and not only for fun, but also for your brain.