When it comes to cognitive function, what’s more advantageous to the aging brain, mental or physical exercise? The answer is–BOTH!

That’s right, physical exercise is just as important as mental exercise when it comes to keeping mentally fit. So say researchers who have been studying brain function and aging.

According to experts, memory improved in 72-year olds when they took up a regular walking routine as little as three times per week. The brains of these seniors resembled those of younger people when scanned by sophisticated equipment measuring mental activity. No surprises here as exercise increases blood flow, which is absolutely essential for keeping the brain healthy. Blood brings nutrients and oxygen to a hard working brain keeping it nourished and healthy. Exercise also stimulates hormone production and keeps the central nervous system firing in a rhythmic pattern, which is necessary to keep the machinery running smoothly. You know, just like firing up the ol’ jalopy in the garage every now and again, just to make sure all the parts stay lubricated.

But, of course, mental activity must also take place regularly. As I’ve said in my last podcast (Episode 4), it also pays to keep learning new things. The process of learning developes dendrites–the nerve cell extensions that form neurological pathways. As the researchers of this latest study point out, people who are more mentally active, and especially those who have higher education, have bushier brains. That is, people who keep learning have more dendrites, and thus more neural pathways. The prescence of abundant dendrites causes a bushy appearance of the brain. No wonder my 6th grade math teacher had bushy ears. He was smart! And don’t forget–continued education also prevents Alzheimer’s disease.

So take heed–exercise regularly, and pick up a copy of Dante’s Inferno. That’ll help keep you functioning beautifully for years to come.

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