A new study published in the American Academy of Neurology found that women with high physical fitness at middle age were nearly 90% less likely to develop dementia, compared to women who were moderately fit. The findings also revealed that out of the highly fit women who did develop dementia, they developed the disease an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit. These findings add to the plethora of benefits that exercise has towards your physical health and your mental wellbeing. So, our experts have listed ways to notch your exercise regime up a gear…
Exercise your body and your brain
“We all know that exercise is important for our general health. However, it is also important for mental and cognitive health. You will know that it is important for your general health and wellbeing that you are not overweight but it is just as important specifically for your brain function. Your brain could age ten years faster if you are overweight when you are middle aged compared with someone of a normal weight at that age,” explains Dr. Marilyn Glenville, one of the UK’s Leading Nutritionists and author of Natural Solutions for Dementia and Alzheimer’s (www.marilynglenville.com).
“When you are exercising your brain is working at full capacity. When you get moving this helps to improve blood flow to the brain, and helps you learn new tasks more quickly. During exercise nerve cells in the brain release factors that trigger lots of other chemicals, which help to promote cognitive function,” adds Nutritionist and Fitness Instructor, Cassandra Barns.
Increase your fitness levels with HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) helps to improve your fitness levels by stimulating several physiological changes in the body. Alix Woods, nutritionist at Quest Nutra Pharma explains, “High intensity interval training is fabulous as it gives the body’s metabolism a ‘kick-start’. It allows the body to burn more calories over a shorter time than steady cardiovascular exercise such as longer distance running. This is due to the alternate periods of high intensity training and low intensity recovery times. My Exercise tip is to do 30 minutes of interval training 3-4 times a week.”
As well as increasing your aerobic exercise, you should also look to lower-intensity exercises to compliment your body’s physical and mental performance. “Pilates can aid any sport or fitness regime because it gives you the base strengthening to feel stronger, the right flexibility to prevent injury and the body awareness to perform effectively. I believe that the plethora of benefits that Pilates has like making you stronger, more flexible and more body-aware can have a positive impact on people’s beliefs and attitudes towards sports and activity. More confidence with movements could lead to approaching activity designed for weight loss with a reduced risk of injuries and faster results,” explains Eleonora Sansoni, instructor at the new holistic wellness boutique, Maître of Thyme (www.maitreofthyme.com).
Fuel your body with the right foods
“Unfortunately, the risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia increases with age but what you eat and your lifestyle can have an enormous impact on your memory as you age and also help to reduce your risk,” explains Dr Glenville.
“We used to think that the only purpose of insulin was to regulate blood sugar, but we now know that it also regulates our neurotransmitters – the brain chemicals, such as acetylcholine, that are important for learning and memory. A diet that includes unrefined carbohydrates rather than refined ones, is the best way to prevent or reverse the insulin resistance that has been linked to Alzheimer’s. If you switch from quick-burn white food to slow burn whole foods, you create a speedy, gradual rise in your blood sugar. The body hardly has to respond at all – having to release only a small amount of insulin to deal with it.”
Unwind with yoga
Dr. Glenville explains, “Yoga has been shown to be more effective at improving memory than brain training. In the study people over the age of 55 who had problem with their memory, including not being able to remember faces and names, were split into two groups. One group was given one hour’s brain training a week, while the other practiced one hour of yoga a week and meditation for 20 minutes a day. Both brain training and yoga improve verbal memory, but the yoga had the added benefit of improving visual–spatial memory, too. This is the memory that helps with remembering locations.”
Maija Kivelä, Yoga instructor at the new holistic wellness boutique, Maître of Thyme (www.maitreofthyme.com) suggests restorative yoga. She explains, “Restorative yoga seeks to achieve physical, mental and emotional relaxation. It provides healing for the body and the mind. It is a mellow and slow-paced style of yoga that will have you holding positions for longer. This style focuses on poses that invigorate your immune system and stretch out the aches and pains of the week.”
Boost your protein
If the increase in your exercise regime leaves you feeling ravenous, try adding a boost of protein to your green smoothie to help provide you with long lasting energy. “To ensure you’re getting your daily dose of protein, try a plant-based protein powder. They are easy to digest and can be kept low-calorie. I’d recommend Natures Plus Almond Protein Powder (£40.50, www.naturesplus.co.uk),” suggests Cassandra.