The ability of the brain to form new neurons and connectors between neurons is known as plasticity. According to the February ’11 Bottom Line Health, that process can increase the brain’s ability to absorb information, process it and retain it—as in better memory—and exercise can enhance it.
A molecule known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor is largely responsible for plasticity, and exercise dramatically increases levels of BDNF. Research on animals at the University of California, Irvine, found BDNF levels were four times higher in exercising mice than those in sedentary ones.
“The BDNF molecule could explain, in part, why people who exercise tend to have less memory loss, are less prone to anxiety and depression and have up to a 50 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia than those who are sedentary.”
The best brain-building exercise is aerobics, and it must be vigorous. Casual walking is not enough: “You need to exercise hard enough that your heart is pumping at 70 percent of its maximum rate.” Max heart rate is 220 minus your age. Multiply that number by .70 to get your target brain-building rate. Hit that goal for 45 minutes as many days a week as possible.
Remember, cardio isn’t just for burning fat; it’s for building your brain and longevity too. (Don’t you hate having more good reasons to do cardio?)