Sudoku and crosswords aren’t the only way to exercise your brain. New studies are finding that physical exercise is also important for brain health.

Chances are you’ve heard a long list of reasons for keeping fit: disease prevention as well as improved mobility, bone density, muscle mass and balance are just a few of the benefits for seniors.

Now you have another motivating reason to add to that list: better cognitive function.

With almost half a million Australians living with dementia, chances are you’ve often wondered how to keep your brain healthy. So here is how exercise helps the brain, and simple ways that seniors can get moving.

What does exercise do for your brain?

Researchers are finding that higher levels of physical exercise are associated with less cognitive decline in people over 65 years old.

Some of the proven benefits exercise has on your brain include:

  • Improved memory
  • Reduced stress and anxiety, which can contribute to cognitive impairment
  • Maintaining blood flow to the brain
  • Reduced risk of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity (which are risk factors for dementia)

Plus, there are many studies happening into the link between exercise and dementia. If you’re keen to learn more, this interview with Harvard Medical School Neurologist Dr Jasmeer Chhatwal on ABC Radio National is a good place to start.

What are the best physical exercises for seniors?

Let’s get one thing straight: you’re never too old to start exercising more!

The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days, but those 30 minutes don’t have to be done all at once. That means you can split your exercise into smaller bursts that you can comfortably manage, and work up from there.

If you’re specifically interested in exercising for brain health, it doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do. Any kind of physical activity is good for you.

That’s good news, because it means you can do things you enjoy!

Ways you can be physically active include:

  • Incidental activity: Housework, walking to the local shop instead of driving, gardening
  • Leisure pursuits: Golf, lawn bowls, bocce, woodwork, dancing
  • Structured activities: Walking groups, strength training, tai chi, hydrotherapy, yoga

By engaging in a range of physical activities like these, you can work on your fitness, as well as strength, balance and flexibility. Plus, you won’t get bored if you’re doing a variety of activities.

Need a hand to get started? A CAREGiver can be there to supervise your exercise at home if you’re not confident, or provide transport to activities outside the home.

Exercise to try at home: Sit to Stand

  1. Start by sitting in the chair with your feet flat on the floor and look straight ahead.
  2. Push down through your feet, squeeze your bottom and stand up (see if you can do this without using your hands, but it’s okay if you need to).
  3. Sit back down.
  4. Repeat three more times.

Because you’re using your legs and core for this exercise, it is great for your whole body strength, as well as your heart and lungs too.

This is the first exercise in a gentle 5-minute routine for seniors created by Michelle Bridges.

Get the full routine in this Exercise for Seniors Guide.