Want to know the secret to a sharper mind, both for you and your child? It’s called exercising regularly. Turns out, working out doesn’t just sculpt the body and whittle away stress. Exercise also protects the brain, leads to greater academic success and, years later, less likelihood of dementia.
Exercise Protects Your Brain
For a few years now, scientists knew that the blood and plasma of younger, fit mice, when injected into old, sedentary mice, produced youthful results. But, they couldn’t guess why. (Incidentally, this led to some Silicon Valley billionaires vampirically infusing themselves with young blood from willing donors).
The latest study, done by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, also focused on mice; at least at first. Then researchers found a little-understood protein called GPLD1, produced by the liver during exercise, which enhanced the memory and learning skills of old, inactive mice. By prodding the mice livers to produce more GPLD1 (through genetic engineering), the rodents acted like young mice.
The researchers then checked the blood of very active elderly people and found the same higher levels of GPLD1. This proved the protein doesn’t just work in mice.
Although scientists are mostly interested in this study and protein in terms of a protective “pill” that bedridden people might take, the study’s conclusions indicate that exercise, for a parent or grandparent, provides some protection from the brain aging process.
That means if you exercise you stay sharper as you age.
Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement
Another recent study in 2019 found that the fitter young adults were, the more robust the white matter in their brains was. This correlated strongly with better test scores for memory and thinking skills. The results even surprised the researchers.
“There already are a few studies published looking at older people” and their brains and fitness, Dr. Jonathan Repple, neuroscience researcher at University of Munster told the New York Times, “but to observe this in a young sample was quite surprising. Even at a young age, physical fitness has beneficial effects not just on the body, but also on brain health and brain functioning.”
Build Strong Exercise Habits Now
Since there still isn’t an exercise benefit pill (despite our fondest wishes), working out needs to be a habit and a lifestyle. With pandemic shutdowns and schools going online, there’s now an opportunity to make exercise a family affair.
Parents.com offers a plethora of suggestions, from nightly after-dinner family walks to dance-offs. Enlisting your kids in household chores and gardening tasks all count, too. Running, biking, and hiking can be done family style, complete with masks and social distancing.
And, the adoption of many dogs due to the pandemic gives yet another opportunity for regular exercise. Somers, New York, mom Mary Rose Almasi gets her two kids, ages 5 and 3, to go for a walk after dinner by suggesting they go “looking for dogs.” “Luckily, there are a few at the end of my long street. That’s the carrot I dangle,” she told Parents.com. “It works like a charm.”