Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and games on Lumosity may have some benefits for your brain. Unfortunately, they fall far short of something else.
Cardiovascular exercise, which gets the heart pumping, the muscles moving, and the sweat glands working, is one of the best medicines for your body. And when something is good for the body, it is often good for the brain.
If you’re hoping to improve memory, delay memory loss, or optimize brain function, exercise might be the best way to do it. There is even data suggesting it may help improve brain function if memory problems do arise.
There are plenty of theories – or reasons – why cardiovascular exercise may help with memory and brain health. For one, exercise spreads nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood throughout the body – including the brain. This can help fight inflammation and promote brain cell growth.
Cardio exercise is known to activate a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. It helps repair and build brain cells and is also associated with a larger hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that stores and retrieves memories.
How much do cardio do you need? It may depend on your overall fitness level. Research shows that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise led to significant boosts for nonathletic people. Other work showed that 45 minutes is optimal for athletes.
Based on those numbers, the average person is likely to benefit by sticking to the recommended dose of weekly exercise of about 150-minutes per week, minimum, which is a little more than 20 minutes per day.
If you’re sedentary, start small. You could break up your exercise periods into five-minute segments throughout the day until you’re capable of 20 minutes at once.
Pacing is also important. Moderate would be performing cardio at a point where you are working hard enough to carry a conversation but moving fast enough to break a sweat.
If you want to do right for your brain, it may help to use your body.