How exercise keeps our brains and bodies young

Regular physical activity is as important for maintaining our health, as it is our brains, especially as we age.

We all know that regular exercise can have both immediate and long-term benefits for our health.

However, research shows that physically, one in three women over 50 and one in five men will sustain an osteoporotic fracture in their lives.

And when it comes to mental health, it’s estimated 135 million people globally will suffer from dementia by 2050.

And with a growing body of evidence linking physical activity with brain health, it’s clear that keeping our bodies strong is important, especially as we age.

Ageing bodies, younger brains

Physiotherapist Anna-Louise Bouvier says specific exercises cannot only help prevent osteoporosis and the risk of falls, but can also significantly help improve brain function and memory as we age.

“You really need to mix-up weight bearing exercises and there’s a lot of great research showing that because you have to think really hard for these, it’s also really good for your cognitive function,” she says.

The popular physiotherapist says bones respond to stress so we need to stimulate them with controlled ‘stress’.

“Impact exercises like stomping are ideal for an older person,” Anna-Louise says. “Or hopping or skipping for a younger person is great for this,” Anna-Louise says.

“Balance is also important to keep strong. Practice balance by standing on one leg while you wait for the kettle or your morning coffee. Make it harder by closing your eyes.”

“For building strength, resistance training has been linked to improvements in brain function.”

“The dose needs to be specific however. So two sessions per week working to at least 80 per cent of your peak strength is ideal,” Anna-Louise says.

The Department of Health recommends that Australian adults do 150 to 300 minutes (2¼ to 5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity (like brisk walking) or 75 to 150 minutes (1¼ to 2½ hours) of vigorous-intensity physical activity (jogging or cycling) – or an equivalent combination of both – every week.

Adults are also advised to do muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week.

The three types of exercise for a healthy body

Anna-Louise recommends the following to help keep your body and mind strong:

  1. Impact exercises, such as hopping, skipping or stomping, which positively ‘stress’ your bones to keep them strong;
  2. Balance exercises, such as standing on one leg to help prevent falls; and
  3. Specific weight training, with resistance at 80 per cent of maximum, to help improve brain function and memory.

“Ideally, work with a health professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to set up a program or think about a group class to keep you motivated,” Anna-Louise adds.

“You can do a lot of things yourself and a lot of the people I see, such as grandparents, even find things like lifting grandchildren great training.”

You can find a physiotherapist at the Australian Physiotherapy Association or talk to your GP or fitness professional. Head to Physiocise for more information about strong bones.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.