Last month, I wrote about the importance of taking a daily constitutional. I began a steady half-hour walk during the summer and have noticed serious short-term benefits from the practice. Namely, the burst of blood flow to the brain has helped me focus better during “dusk” portion of my workday, while bumping up my steps count and offering me a bonus mini-“workout.”
As it turns out, prioritizing afternoon ambles has some serious long-term benefits, too. According to an article by health economist Austin Frakt for The New York Times, consistently moving the body before cognitive decline begins is an effective way to combat senile dementia. A range of studies have found association between active lifestyles and improved cognitive performances later on; it’s a tough correlation to test for, considering you have to know people’s activity levels and then … let them age, but time and time again, aerobic exercise helps the brain while sitting on the couch watching TV does not.
The potential reasons are both physiological and social. Exercise flushes the brain, supplying it with new blood flow, which can help prevent vascular dementia. And the communal, focused nature of physical activity challenges the brain in ways that pottering around the house simply can’t.
Dementia is an umbrella term for brain diseases that induce cognitive difficulties that outpace aging. Four to five million Americans are currently living with some form of it, and in nearly 70% of cases, that means Alzheimer’s. It’s scary stuff, and tragic for the millions more family members who have to watch loved ones lose their daily functioning (while often retaining their consciousness).
Your best bet is to get ahead of it and foster healthy habits. That means walking each day. Drinking more water and less alcohol. Getting your protein from plants, when you can. And mixing in strength training; you’re never too old to throw some weights around.
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