Flex your muscles and your brain with this easy workout that combines cardio and strength-training elements in fun, new ways.
It isn’t just your muscles that get a workout when you hit the gym or set out on a brisk walk. Exercise benefits every part of your body — and your brain is no exception.
“There’s no doubt that our brains work best when we move,” says Sharlyn Green, a SilverSneakers Master Trainer and a certified yoga teacher. “In addition to its mood elevating effects, exercise directly influences our ability to learn and improves our ability to process and retain new information.”
Research backs that up. A 2016 Journal of American Geriatrics Society study suggests a connection between exercise and increased brain performance.
For the study, researchers in Australia placed participants between the ages of 55 and 86 into several different fitness groups. The group that lifted weights twice a week for six months scored higher on cognitive tests than participants who weren’t strength training.
Similarly, researchers from a 2019 Psychological Research study found that people who lift weights had better attention, reasoning, and memory than those who don’t.
There’s even evidence that cognitive decline is almost twice as common among adults who are inactive as those who are active, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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How Your Brain Benefits from Exercise
So how does exercise boost your brainpower?
Brain health experts at the Cleveland Clinic report that staying physically active helps:
- Improve blood flow to the brain, which in turn helps keep blood vessels nimble. Stiff blood vessels are associated with an increased risk of dementia.
- Bring down inflammation
- Lower stress hormones
- Promote better cardiovascular health
There are even beneficial physical changes to the brain thanks to exercise. Movement helps your brain form new neural connections so you can continue to learn and absorb new information. Exercise also strengthens the integrity of nerve cells in the brain.
To reap all these brain benefits, try to hit the recommended exercise targets of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
“Aerobic exercise, strength training, and mind-body practices, like yoga or tai chi, all give you a brain boost — especially if you add a cognitive brain challenge or an element of coordination,” Green says.
That’s exactly what Green has done with this simple follow-along workout that combines cardio and strength exercises with elements of cognitive training.
How to Use the Brain-Boosting Workout
All you need is a pair of comfortable sneakers and a set of light dumbbells. If you don’t have dumbbells at home, you can use cans of food or water bottles — or just your own bodyweight. Aim to do this workout two to three times each week.
This workout includes a mix of cardio and strength exercises. The moves are fairly straightforward, but surprising elements engage your mental powers.
For example, Green may ask you to pick a number and count backwards by seven during your workout. Or your right and left arm may be doing different exercises at the same time. Also be on the lookout for tempo changes and combination exercises.
Think of it as the ultimate brain challenge!
As always, safety is key. Get your doctor’s OK before beginning a new exercise program. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Ready to give your brain and your muscles a workout? Press play and follow along with Green.
Love this workout and want more? Try a Total Body Strength (intermediate to advanced) or Cardio & Strength Express (beginner to intermediate) class with SilverSneakers LIVE! View the schedule and RSVP here.
See our sources:
Connection between strength training and cognition: University of Sydney
Effects of weightlifting on brainpower: Psychological Research
How exercise protects against cognitive decline: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & Preventive Medicine
How exercise benefits the brain: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Cleveland Clinic
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