From Jazzercise, Inc.
(CARLSBAD, CA) Today the connection between our physical, emotional and mental health is widely accepted, and scientific research indicates that regular exercise plays a vital role in achieving optimal health in all three areas. Physically, exercise has a positive influence on everything from weight control to cancer and heart disease risk. Mentally and emotionally exercise is a natural stress reducer, self-esteem booster and anti-depressant. But here's a benefit that is often overlooked: exercise stimulates our mental acuity as well.
The biological changes prompted by exercise improve our "capacity to master new and remember old information," states Dr. John J. Ratey, Harvard University clinical psychiatry professor and author of A User's Guide to the Brain. Ratey explains that "physical movements call upon many of the same neurons used for reading, writing and math" and "physically active people reported an increase in academic abilities, memory retrieval and cognitive abilities."
Formerly, scientists believed that individuals lost brain function as they aged due to an outright loss of nerve cells. Today, research indicates that memory lapses are more likely due to a breakdown in the synapses or connections between nerves.
In fact, researchers from the University of California at Irvine found that a healthy brain continues to grow new neurons indefinitely, which can actually slow the brain's aging process and even reverse existing damage. But a healthy brain is a product of a balanced lifestyle that includes proper nutrition, stress management and mental and physical exercise.
What makes physical exercise so important? In addition to reducing stress, aerobic exercise washes the brain in fresh oxygen and increases the production of growth agents for nerve cells. Study participants at the Beckman Institute for Science and Technology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne who moved from a sedentary to active lifestyle (three 45-minute aerobic workouts per week) improved their mental performance by as much as 25 percent in six months.
A diet rich in antioxidants is also helpful. Reactive forms of oxygen, called free radicals, are a natural byproduct of our metabolism. Free radicals break down cell membranes throughout the body and can affect cell connections in the brain. While our bodies produce antioxidants to protect and repair cells from this process, the production slows with age, hence the need for dietary assistance. Individuals whose diets included Vitamins C, E, B and beta-carotene scored higher on memory tests and appeared to maintain mental function better than individuals who didn't get adequate amounts of these nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants.
Finally, experts recommend giving your brain a mental workout as well. Word puzzles, hobbies, socializing, reading, travel - any thought-provoking activities - stimulate the brain, increasing blood flow and strengthening both the brain cells and the connections between them.
So it's really a no-brainer. Jazzercise founder and CEO, Judi Sheppard Missett, insists that physical activity plays a pivotal role in maintaining mental fitness! The following exercise is an excellent addition to any program. It strengthens the muscles of your hip, while improving balance and challenging your posture stabilization muscles.
Begin by standing tall with your feet hip width apart. Point your right foot out to the side, as you reach your arms out for balance. Keeping your hips level, slowly lift your right leg a few inches off the floor. Pause briefly, standing tall and balancing on your left foot before lowering your right foot back to the floor. Repeat 10 to 15 times before repeating the movements on the opposite side.
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