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We all know that regular exercise has great benefits to offer for the body. There are many ailments including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and others that can be kept at bay with a good fitness regimen or at least controlled by one. But, not many of us are aware that exercising is equally important for mental health too. In fact, just like we feel more energized and active physically when we exercise, our brain functions are also given impetus by structured fitness activities.

The link between fitness and mental agility was clearly underlined by neuropsychiatrist John Ratey1, from the Harvard Medical School, whose research has shown that fitness levels impact cognitive abilities quite significantly. In childhood, proper, adequate physical activity boosts the brain’s ability to deal with the changing body and intellect as the individual matures. In advanced age, fitness plays a key role in keeping mental health problems like dementia away.

An interesting paper published by cognitive psychologist Arthur Kramer, University of Illinois, highlights how adults unaccustomed to exercise were able to improve cognitive skills after undertaking an aerobic fitness plan for a period of half and year. Of course, this also goes to show that the benefits are seen only when the individual follows a structured exercise routine and sticks to this on a regular basis.

Consistency is the key

Neurologist Dr. Scott Mc Ginnis finds it ‘exciting’ that regular exercise, when done for at least six months, has some clear positive impact to show in the brain function of individuals. He says that both the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal cortex of the brain are greater in volume in those who have a regular fitness program than those who do not exercise consistently2. These being the parts of the brain that manage memory and thought processes, it is clear that many age related mental health issues can be avoided or controlled merely by exercising moderately but consistently.

The best forms of exercise

Researchers believe that almost any form of exercise, not necessarily highly strenuous, is good for physical and mental well- being. In particular, aerobic exercise forms, which gets your heart beat up and your blood pumping are very effective indeed. However, for those who cannot manage aerobics yet, simpler, easier exercises like swimming or walking, offer benefits too, as long as the individual is committed to doing them every day.

A Journal of Aging Research publication3 has underlined the importance of physical exercise as an effective ‘non-pharmaceutical intervention’ that can keep the neurodegenerative diseases that come with age, at bay. So start exercising today and make sure you always make time for it so that you can live a long, healthy, physically and mentally active life.