How Working Out Works the Mind

Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on September 22, 2021
photo of mature woman doing yoga

As you get older, you may not be surprised if your eyesight gets a little blurrier, your hearing a little duller, your joints a little achier, and your brain a little slower.

But what if that last part doesn’t have to happen?

Dementia isn’t part of the normal aging process. Some forms can be prevented or even reversed with the right diet and lifestyle choices.

Research has shown that a lack of physical activity can make you more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s linked to three conditions that can raise your odds as well (diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity). Getting more exercise may help lower those chances.

How Does Exercise Help?

A protein called tau helps keep the structure of the cells in your brain stable. Higher levels of it are linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A study at Wake Forest University showed that aerobic exercise -- the kind that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster -- can lower your levels of tau.

The study also showed that exercise boosts blood flow to parts of your brain linked to memory and processing. That can help with things like planning, organizing, and focus.

How to Get Started

Anything you do can be good for your body and your brain. You don’t have to run marathons or be a triathlete. Moving just a bit more can help.

You can start with whatever kind of activity you enjoy, like walking, jogging, biking, or swimming. Things like yoga and tai chi are good options, too, because they work your body and relax your mind.

As you age, it’s also important to do toning and stretching. To get stronger and more flexible, you might try:

  • Squats
  • Yoga
  • Modified push-ups (with your knees on the ground)
  • Pilates

Start with small, easy moves and do more as you’re able.

Show Sources


University of Michigan: “Older and stronger: Progressive resistance training can build muscle, increase strength as we age.”

Alzheimer's Association: "What is dementia?" 

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center: “Going Beyond Risk Reduction: Physical Exercise May Be An Effective Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease and Vascular Dementia."

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