Exercise is known for having many mental and physical benefits, including improving brain health and lowering the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stress. Physical exercise is a relatively loose term, however, open for a wide range of interpretation.
To find out more about the type of physical activity that is best for Alzheimer’s prevention, read more about what the experts do to promote brain health.
Fitness Tips From the Experts
Dr. Richard Isaacson, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at NYP/Weill Cornell Medical Center, recently interviewed a panel of fitness experts about exercising to promote brain health.
Here’s what the panel of experts recommend when it comes to promoting brain health:
1. Challenge yourself.
Lugavere explains that it’s important to push the body to its limits, even if it’s in short bursts because this will compel the body to get stronger. Lugavere likes to do sprints outside and at the gym, he says he uses the elliptical and alternates with the use of battle ropes (heavy ropes that are used to swing up and down for high intensity) for 45-second intervals.
2. Get involved in a variety of different types of physical activities.
Dr. Isaacson states that he works on the circuit machines to focus on strength training. Cohen highly recommends spinning as part of a great brain-healthy workout; she’s also a big fan of using the jump rope and sprinting, using the Curve (manual powered treadmill) and the Stairmaster. Cohen also recommends spinning for anyone who has knee or joint problems, or other types of injuries – such as sciatica.
3. Implement High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT). HIIT is an intense cardiovascular training workout that involves short periods of the anaerobic type of workouts (like biking, jumping, running or sprinting) alternating with less intense recovery periods. The goal of high-intensity training is to kick up your cardio workout, which involves pushing yourself to the maximum level with every 20 to 90-second set. The reason for such short workout intervals is because they are so intense that a person experiences breathlessness.
4. Incorporate strength training.
Each of the fitness experts on the panel suggests alternating HIIT with resistance and weight training to challenge the body, while gradually develop more resilience and strength.
5. Stay active during the workday.
For those of us who sit at a desk all day long, Dr. Isaacson suggests the use of a balance ball or stand-up desk to keep the core active, while taking frequent breaks during the day to stretch or walk.
6. Track the outcome.
It’s all about improving lab results (fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels), increasing muscle mass and lowering the percentage of excess body fat. Dr. Isaacson stated that he measures his own results as part of an overall personal fitness training program and he helps the patients in his clinic to do the same. He says he reduced his own body fat from 21-17% by integrating HIIT (utilizing spinning for the high-intensity portion of his workout). Cohen also says that the students in her training classes report great weight loss results from HIIT with spinning.
7. Use reminders.
Dr. Isaacson uses a fitness tracker for a reminder of when it’s time to get more active during his work day. His goal is to take 10,500 steps per day (in addition to his regular structured workouts). He reminds us that research shows that walking 20 minutes or more each day may help reduce Alzheimer’s risks, but he doesn’t stop there. He says that he strives for optimal fitness with each workout, to obtain the highest level of brain health.
8. Work out at a high level of intensity.
Dr. Isaacson mentions that when he sees patients at the clinic who say they exercise regularly but are not getting results, he asks them “what are you doing while you are working out?” If they reply that they can have a conversation, text or watch a movie, he knows their workout intensity level is most likely too low. Dr. Isaacson says, “If you can have a conversation when you are exercising it’s probably not effective to burn body fat or having the best effect on brain health.” Lugavere reminds us that “intensity” is a relative term and it’s not an absolute for each person. Depending on a person’s muscle mass and other factors, everyone will need to start out at different levels. Perhaps one person, who has never been active, will begin by simply walking each day; but the goal is to start slowly, then continue to challenge yourself by gradually increasing the intensity.
What the Experts Do to Promote Brain Health
During the panel interview, when asked the question, “What do you do to keep your brain healthy?” Cohen responded that she has a goal to exercise 7 days per week (but says that doesn’t always happen). She loves HIIT, plates, spinning and sprints: just about anything high intensity.
Lugavere likes to stay active, biking and walking as much as possible wherever he goes. When he sits down to work in his office, he takes breaks every 20 minutes to stretch and tries to keep his body in a constant state of motion as much as possible. He also incorporates strength training into his exercise regime three or four times each week. Like Cohen, Lugavere tries to do some type of workout each day, mixing it up with a variety of different activities.
Keep in mind that you should never begin any type of workout program without the approval of your healthcare provider. Professional trainers can help personalize the fitness program based on age and any medical problems or injuries; but, Dr. Isaacson reminds us that any fitness program should be reviewed by the treating physician.