Which Exercises Are Best for Brain Health and Memory?
While no studies have proven that any one type of exercise is best when it comes to brain and memory health, Howard Fillit, M.D., the founding executive director and chief science officer at the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation, says the best work out is the one that you enjoy. "Brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming—they can all benefit your brain health, and choosing an exercise you like to do will help you continue long-term, which is the most important way to make sure you see the benefit," he says. Of course, Dr. Fillit says there are some things to look for when it comes to choosing a workout routine—namely that it stimulates your cognition—that can keep both your body and mind fit.
Look for workouts that challenge you on many levels.
Dr. Fillit says "multimodal" workouts—like aerobic exercise and resistance and balance training—promote cognition best. "Balance training in particular impacts cognition and has a positive effect on brain health for older adults," he explains. Picking a workout that gets both your mind and body involved—like a Zumba or dance cardio class that requires you to remember a set of choreography—can improve your brain's health and your well-being.
Some workouts supercharge the brain.
In 2017, a study published in The Lancet found that nearly three percent of all Alzheimer's cases may be caused by lack of exercise, and since then, there is a growing body of research identifying the protective effect of physical activity against aging-associated dementia in older adults, explains Dr. Fillit. "We know that improving the function of your brain's blood vessels through exercise may reduce your risk for Alzheimer's disease," he says. "There is also some evidence to suggest that exercise can increase the levels of neuroprotective growth factors, boost the generation of new brain cells, or reduce inflammation in the brain."
Learning new skills can also boost your brain and memory.
Stimulating your brain, and making sure to keep learning as you age, has been shown to protect against cognitive decline—and this includes trying new-to-you exercises. Regularly picking up a new workout can help to keep your mind sharp, so consider branching out and signing up for that group fencing class or swimming a few laps at your local Y.
It's never too late to start moving.
It's never too soon, or too late, to begin exercising to benefit your brain's health. "The World Health Organization recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity) aerobic exercise every week, along with at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities—but any level of exercise is better than nothing," Dr. Fillit explains. "Whether you join a local community center or gym, or you challenge family members and friends in a health app competition, integrating exercise into your daily routine is an important first step for brain health."