Do you really need to take 10,000 steps daily?

The idea of reaching 10,000 steps on a daily basis is daunting for many people. In the US, one count averaged daily steps at 4800, and in Australia the average hits around 7500 steps per day. That’s a bit of time on your feet – but still well below the 10,000 steps that gets tossed around a lot. It bears asking:

How much do you risk by not hitting your 10K target?

Less than the publicity would make you believe. As it turns out, there’s no real scientific basis for the recommendation of reaching 10,000 steps. Rather, this number likely originated in Japan in the mid-1960s, either as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer, or based on the name of a pedometer brand. As an aside, it’s reallllly convenient for such a nice round number to be the magic number we need for health. Our bodies don’t often work on such easy numbers!

That said, the number of steps you take every day does have an impact on your overall health. Numerous studies show that the more steps you average on a daily basis, the healthier you’ll be. This tends to mean that you’ll enjoy a longer life span, with a higher quality of life, than if you average fewer steps on a daily basis. Somewhat frustratingly, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum number you do need in order to achieve health benefits; We just know that the more you do, the better your health will be. As for getting steps just walking around, rather than going for a walk to workout (or other exercise, for that matter)? Interestingly, health markers and life expectancy seem to be strongly linked with just being on your feet more, as a designated workout or not.

In one recent study, the biggest decreases in risk of death occurred when inactive women became more active – even if it was nowhere near the 10,000 mark! Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the daily step count of about 16,000 older women over the course of a week, and found that in the 4 years following the study, those in the lowest step count group were also the most likely to die. This was found even at the relatively low end of the step count spectrum:  women who averaged approximately 4400 daily steps had lower mortality rates than those who took about 2700 steps a day. A higher number of daily steps saw an additional decrease in overall death rates, up through about 7500 steps daily.

So don’t sweat the 10K mark – just get up and get moving!

 


Man wearing track pants and black sneakers on an elliptical crosstrainer

Client Question: While using an elliptical crosstrainer, should my heels stay on the pedals?

Short answer: Nope!

Using an elliptical machine or cross-trainer is a close substitute for walking or jogging on a treadmill or outside. Your body should move in roughly the same way, whether you’re walking around during day to day life, cruising on the treadmill, or turning the pedals on an elliptical machine.

When you walk, jog, or run, your heel leaves the ground as your back leg powers you forward. This same movement is used with an elliptical trainer. The main difference (obviously) is that you don’t actually go anywhere. To get your workout in and heart rate up, you still have to move the pedals, which requires the same “push” from the back leg that you use to move yourself forward when walking or running. (If you’ve tried using the crosstrainer with your heels stuck flat, it’s probably felt kind of awkward, yeah? That’s why!)

Human gait walking pattern

That doesn’t mean that you should spend your whole workout without your heel on the pedal – that would be like walking around on your toes all the time. Your heel should lift at least slightly as you bring your back leg forward, and be in contact with the pedal as your leg moves from in front to behind. How much acutal “lift” you get will depend on the machine you use, as some have a more oval-shaped pedal track, which will require more heel lift, and some will have a more circular pedal track, which might have little lift, or even just a shift of your body weight onto your toes.

The heel lift is part of your normal stride or gait. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle in efficient walking, running, or crosstraining. Lifting your heel as your back leg prepares to swing forward helps connect your foot and ankle with the other muscles in the back of the leg, and through the back to the opposite arm (using an opposite arm-leg swing pattern helps us stay balanced and not falling over). The muscles of your calf contract to lift the heel and push the foot into the ground, working in a coordinated pattern with the other muscles used in your stride pattern. Changing the way you move one part of your body (or prevent movement) can greatly impact many other body parts, and may predispose you to higher stress and strain on your soft tissues and joints.

I’ve answered a similar question over at Quora if you want more info. But your best bet? Let your body move naturally. If you’re not in pain during or after your workout, you’re likely ok!

Have your own question about your health and fitness? Submit it to info@healthfitcoaching.com to get a clear answer on how you can move easily and feel great.


two medicine balls for at home strength training exercise and fitness

Cardio Workouts For Apartment Complex Gyms

Live in an apartment that has a gym in the building? It’s so convenient… for you and everyone else! 

Most apartment complexes with gym facilities have a treadmill, a stationary bike, and sometimes an elliptical or crosstrainer machine. There’s usually one of everything and that one is frequently in use, especially if you’re working out before work or after hours. But why tie yourself to the same old gym equipment? Here are some fresh workouts that you can use for cardio or aerobic exercise, without slaving away on the treadmill… In fact, you can stay away from the cardio machines entirely. 

These workouts are travel friendly as well, allowing you to keep on top of training even when you’re away from home. Perfect for hotel gyms or even your hotel room if you’re happy to travel with an exercise band (the superband referred to below). And of course, great for home workouts too!

 

Body Weight Circuit 

  • Jumping jacks/Star jumps
  • Shadow boxing
  • Side to side hops
  • Clap pushups
  • Jump squats
  • Plank shoulder taps or Plank shift

Complete 2-5 rounds of 10-15 reps per exercises. See it in action here!

 

 

Super Band Workout

  • Superband front squats
  • Superband shoulder press
  • Superband bent over row
  • Superband monster walk (side-to-side and front-to-back)

Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!

 

Dumbbell Circuit

  • Front squats
  • Shoulder press
  • Split squat
  • Bent over row
  • Lateral squat

Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!

With any and all of these exercises, remember that:

Only perform exercises that you can do safely and pain-free. If you aren’t used to moderate or high intensity exercise, chat with your doctor before starting an exercise program. You can test your Exercise Readiness with this quick questionnaire.

All of these workouts are flexible. If you like or dislike certain exercises, you can swap them out, or just add others in to create more variety. Choose your own adventure!

 

If you’re keen to workout on your own? Keep yourself going with this additional recommended reading: 

Three Top Tips for Injury Prevention

What Gym Equipment Will Give Me The Best Cardio Workout

How Do I Become Stronger Without Going To The Gym


two medicine balls for at home strength training exercise and fitness

Client Question: What is functional exercise?

This is a great question!!

“Functional” has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for years now. It likely conjures up images of someone exercising while standing on one foot, doing much of their workout sitting (or standing – though please don’t!) on a big rubber fit ball to switch on their core. Spoiler: This isn’t actually what it means!**

In reality, most exercise can be functional exercises: Functional exercises are those that have a direct benefit to the movements you make in real life, whether that’s going about your day to day activities, going to the gym to get stronger, starting a beginners running program, or even training to compete in a big race. There is no particular group of exercises that are “functional”.

** As people (personal trainers, coaches, clients, and athletes) have seen how little the above types of exercise help in daily life and performance, the industry has moved away from the balance and instability elements that are the hallmark of the early “functional” trend. In fact, these exercises can lead to poor exercise technique, increased compensation patterns, and minimal additional benefit. They aren’t terrible across the board, but you can make better choices with your time!

Writing A Functional Exercise Program

When I see a client who’s interested in getting into functional movement or exercise, I get really excited, since it lets me stretch my creative juices a bit (and also because these clients have the highest chance of long term success – winning!). The process starts with a good chat about what real life looks like for you, what kind of movements you might struggle with, what kind of movements you get pain with, and what you would like to be able to do more easily. We’ll do a brief movement screen to let your body tell it’s side of the story, since most of us have movement compensations we are not aware of, and then we’ll get started on creating a balanced exercise program to match your needs and goals.

Here’s where the art comes in. When I think about what exercises should go in this program, I think about the movements you make in daily life and/or training. I’ll pick exercises that are similar to those movements to help strengthen the muscles that keep you going day to day. I’ll also pick exercises that will turn on any muscles that aren’t quite pulling their weight in your normal movements (under-active muscles play a key role in injury rates) and exercises that provide a balance to your main working muscle groups, which will further decrease injury risk. You should be able to recognize your in your workout exercises that mimic the movements of your job, or that help you improve strength or cardiovascular fitness levels so that the activities of everyday life become easier.

Common Examples of Functional Exercises

Functional Exercise

Similar Real Life Movement

Squats Sitting down and standing up, as from a chair
Step Ups Walking up stairs
Bicep Curls Picking up a small child
Farmers Carry Carrying the grocery bags

Is Your Program Functional For You?

Whether it’s called functional or not, the best program will evaluate your daily movements, energy needs, and lifestyle goals, and focus on exercises that will improve or maintain your abilities in these areas. Not every exercise will seem like something a movement you make every day, since creating strength for movement can require different muscles and joint angles than you might expect. Your body is a complex machine, and it’s rare that you’ll ever sit down, stand up, walk, carry, or lift things in the same perfectly straight line every time! Overall though, you should be able to see the similarities to your daily life, and within a few weeks should be able to feel the benefits.

If you’re not sure that your program is ticking these boxes, HealthFit can help. Your exercise physiology program is designed to be done in-home, at your gym, or anywhere else you feel the most comfortable and likely to do it, and if that’s not functional, I don’t know what is!

HealthFit looks after residents of inner city Brisbane and the western suburbs, including Spring Hill, Paddington, Bardon, Rosalie, Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, Taringa, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill, Kenmore, Graceville, and Chelmer. 

Want more info about how HealthFit can help you? Get In Touch

 


Blue theraband being stretched between hands

A New Approach To Stretching Tight Hamstrings

Feel like your hamstrings are always tight?

Tension along the back of the thighs is one of the most common complaints I hear as both an exercise physiologist and a remedial massage therapist. And when I ask people what they focus on when they stretch, the answer almost inevitably includes hamstrings. Why are these buggers always so tight?

There are many reasons your hamstrings could be tight, having to do with your normal activities, posture, or how you generally use your body. Let’s focus on one of the most common reasons your hamstrings feel tight, and more importantly, what you can do about it!

Tight Hamstrings Often Come From Your Hips

As cliche as it sounds, everything in the body is connected. Your hamstrings run along the back of your thigh, and attach to the bottom back of your pelvis, on bony areas often referred to as your “sit bones”. Your hip flexors are shorter muscles that run from various spots on the front of the pelvis to the top of the thigh bone (your femur). They may be small, but they pack a punch!

Side view of pelvis with hip flexor and hamstring attachment points highlighted

Hip Flexor attachment and direction of pull in blue
Hamstring attachment and direction of pull in green

When you sit a lot, and most of us do, your hip flexors rest in a shortened position. Stay in a shortened position long enough, and the body will adapt to that, essentially resetting to a “new normal” – a short one. This tilts your pelvis forward slightly during sitting, standing, and movement, a lower back, pelvic, and hip posture we call anterior pelvic tilt.

This has a flow-on effect on your hamstrings. When the pelvis tips forward, it pulls the top of the hamstring muscles up towards your head. Because the bottom of the hamstrings don’t move upwards, the muscles become stretched out. Much like stretching a rubber band, this stretching leads to increased hamstring tension, and you’ll feel like you need to stretch your hamstrings.

Since you now know that they’re already stretched, what can you do to get rid of the tension feeling?

Stretch Your Hip Flexors

Lengthening the hip flexor muscles at the front of your pelvis and hips can decrease the pull on the hamstrings muscles, which in turn can decrease the feeling of tension along the back of the thigh. Try these three stretches:

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

How To: 

  • Kneel on one knee and take a big step out front with the opposite foot.
  • Keep the hip, knee, ankle, and foot on your back leg aligned (most of us tend to twist the hip so the foot twists inward.) Front leg can be aligned, or can move slightly out to the side.
  • Tighten the glute muscles (the muscles of your bum) – this is key to the hip flexor stretch. Drop your hips forward and down. Keep your torso more or less vertical. Your front shin should stay vertical or knee slightly extended, and your weight should stay through your front heel to protect your knee.
  • Extra credit: Lengthen along the entire front of the body by reaching up and slightly backward with the arm on the same side as the stretching leg.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. You may only feel it stretching one area or the other – that’s ok. All the muscles are being stretched. Your brain just pays attention to the one that is stretching the most.

Not ok with kneeling? Try this version:

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

How To: 

  • Take a big step backward with one foot, and a big step forward with the other foot.
  • Keep the hip, knee, ankle, and foot on your back leg aligned (most of us tend to twist the hip so the foot twists inward.) Front leg can be aligned, or can move slightly out to the side.
  • Tighten the glute muscles (the muscles of your bum) – this is key to the hip flexor stretch. Drop your back knee halfway to the ground, pushing your hips forward. Keep your torso more or less vertical. Your front shin should stay vertical or knee slightly extended, and your weight should stay through your front heel to protect your knee.
  • If needed, take a slightly larger step forward, or drop the back knee down towards the floor more, which will help keep the back thigh and torso vertical.
  • Extra credit: Lengthen along the entire front of the body by reaching up and slightly backward with the arm on the same side as the stretching leg.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. This standing version tends to feel like more of a quad stretch (front of thigh), but the hip flexors are lengthening too, especially with the glute squeeze.

If you want even better results, add this next stretch in. It targets the quads, which are the muscles at the front of your thigh. One of these muscles also acts as a hip flexor due to it’s attachment point on the pelvis. Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time on stretching the muscles at the front of the body anyway.

Standing Quad Stretch

How To:

  • Stand upright with feet together. Without bending or rotating your pelvis or hips, or shifting your weight too much (some shift will occur), bring one foot up behind your hips and hold it there.
  • Keep your knees together and torso upright, and squeeze your glutes.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. This standing version tends to feel like more of a quad stretch (front of thigh), but the hip flexors are lengthening too, especially with the glute squeeze.

Do these stretches daily for two weeks, then drop back to doing them 3 to 4 times per week to help keep your hips and hamstrings feeling good. As an added bonus, you’ll also be helping your lower back stay healthy and pain-free, and will make your workouts more effective. You can also substitute your own preferred hip flexor stretches. If you’d like, tell us about your favorite in the comments 🙂


Outdoor gym and walking path at Moorlands Park Toowong

Great Outdoor Gyms in Brisbane

In-home exercise physiology sessions are really popular thanks to their convenience and flexible scheduling, allowing clients to fit sessions in with the other things in life that matter. But that doesn’t mean people necessarily want to be stuck at home. And one of the great things about living in Brisbane is that we can take our in-home sessions outside, taking advantage of the parks, walking trails, bikeways, and outdoor gyms that the Brisbane City Council has installed throughout the city – plus the (almost always) beautiful weather. Some of our favourite spots for in-home sessions are actually outside!

Here are some of the outdoor exercise spots we love to put to use:

Moorlands Park, Toowong

A playground for kids is complemented by a playground for adults. This little park is tucked right off of Coronation Drive in Toowong and is complete with an outdoor gym including parallel bars, chin up bars, suspension training rings, and plyometric boxes, among other choices – definitely enough to give yourself a well-balanced full body workout. It’s also an easy spot to jump onto the Bicentennial Bikeway through a tunnel running underneath Coronation Drive.

Bicentennial Bikeway and Walking Path, Coronation Drive – Toowong/Auchenflower/Milton/Brisbane City

Ok, this one is not a gym, but it is great. The Bicentennial Bikeway (the Coronation Drive Bikeway to locals) was upgraded a few years ago into a pretty flash cycle and walking path. The upgrade saw the Bikeway split into dedicated cycle and pedestrian lanes, keeping the faster and slower moving objects separate so that you don’t have to worry about getting run over! The bikeway runs from Toowong to underneath the William Jolly Bridge, about 2.7km. This is an immensely popular stretch with well maintained paths and minimal hills. The biggest drawbacks: There’s not a lot of shade, and if you hit peak foot and cycle traffic, you’ll find it’s quite busy. There are plenty of water stops along the way, and some covered seated areas where you could do dips, step ups, and squats, if you wanted to do a combined bodyweight strength and cardio workout.

Robertson Park, Indooroopilly/Taringa

A nice little walking loop tucked between the St Lucia Golf Links on one side and Indooroopilly State High School on the other. There are several exercise stations interspersed along the path, including a climbing rope, chin up bars, step up steps, and others. You could get a great workout here by running or briskly walking a loop, and stopping at a different exercise station for each lap you do. You can also duck across the road and take a walk or run down the wide walking path that runs along Hillside Terrace in St Lucia.

Frew Park, Milton

New in 2014, Frew Park has an amazing playground complete with climbing and bouldering areas that are good enough for adults to play on when the kids aren’t around. If you’re looking for more traditional exercise equipment, there is also an outdoor gym area featuring cycle and elliptical type equipment, chin up and dip bars, and others. The gym area is edged with a concrete edge that is perfect for high squats or step ups. And there is a concrete walking path that rings the gym, allowing you to walk or run some laps if that’s your thing. An added bonus: As home to the Roy Emerson Tennis Centre, Frew Park also hosts their own coffee shop, open 7 days per week.


Middle age woman walking for fitness

Private Health Insurance Needs To Support Exercise

Want your private health insurance to help you cover your exercise costs?

Getting and staying fit and healthy takes time, effort, and often your hard earned money. I’m clearly biased, but I believe these investments are worth it. Most private health insurance companies agree – at least in statement. Unfortunately, they agree less when it comes to putting their money where their mouths are.

Many private health insurance companies do offer exercise physiology coverage through their extras programs, which is a great first step. Frustratingly for both exercise physiologists and our clients – that is, for you – the coverage is often limited, with large gap payments and relatively low limits on what your private health might pay annually. As exercise physiologist, we are also limited in what services we can provide when you are claiming with private health. General fitness sessions are not covered under exercise physiology. Rather, your EP session should be designed to address a specific health condition(s). Given the amount of science telling us how much exercise helps keep us all healthy, preventing disease and chronic conditions, it would be nice to see some support for regular exercise in a preventative capacity.

You can do something about this! Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), the governing body for exercise physiology and exercise science, has released a statement encouraging private health insurance customers to get involved. A petition is available, and they’ve provided a template letter for contacting your insurance company directly to support an increase in exercise physiology benefits. If you want better coverage and better support for exercise for health and fitness, head over the read the statement – petition links and letter template at at the end.

 


Cartoon of two people sitting down having a conversation

Why Healthcare Is Like Dating

You’re looking for someone to care about you, enough so that they want the best for you.

Could be dating, could be finding a new healthcare provider. Whether going well or not, these two situations have a lot of similarities. They boil down to some base questions:

Are you meeting the right kind of person?

In dating, you want to meet someone that you have something in common with.

In healthcare, you want to meet a provider that has training “in common” with your condition. A doctor for illnesses, a dietician for nutritional advice, a massage therapist and exercise physiologist for muscle imbalance and injury prevention – the list could go on and on.

Are you meeting them at the right time?

I recently had a client come in with debilitating back pain. She could hardly move. She’d already been to the physiotherapist, who had given her some exercises to increase her core strength (the right solution, long term)… that she couldn’t do, because she could hardly move. What she needed was the right type of healthcare for her present condition – in this case, remedial massage to relieve the muscle spasm and allow the exercises to work. For the most effective and efficient outcome, you need the right healthcare at the right time.

Do you like them?

In healthcare and dating, there are many fish in the sea. Your doctor, exercise physiologist, dietician, remedial massage therapist, physiotherapist, etc. has approximately the same training as all the others in their field. But, as with dating, just because a person meets basic criteria doesn’t mean that you have to stick with them. Better healthcare happens when you have good communication, and good communication happens when you connect with people. Look for someone who listens to you, asks good questions about how you feel, wants your input, looks to make you a part of the solution, and is nice to you!

(And just like dating, when you find a good one, hang onto them!)


Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Is Walking Worth It?

With the popularity of high intensity workouts like Crossfit, F45, or bootcamps, it might seem like going for a walk isn’t much of a workout at all. If you’re looking to increase your fitness and improve your health, is it worth your time?

Actually, yes – especially if you are interested in health benefits more than getting lean and ripped.

Going for a brisk walk is moderate intensity exercise for most people, and can even count as vigorous exercise if you aren’t normally active. A meta-analysis (a research paper pooling and organizing other research to better understand and apply results) reviewing 32 studies has shown that a brisk walk at least a few times per week will improve your health. Significant improvements in aerobic fitness were found, as well as decreased BMI, body weight, body fat percentage, and measurements of waist circumference – all of which are strongly linked to high risk of cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure also showed a significant decrease following a program of regular walking.

So what?

The benefits of weight loss and lower body fat are well-discussed: Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic health conditions. But those are things that may or may not happen in the future. What about right now?

While the health and fitness improvements found in the reviewed studies weren’t so great that the participants ended up with six-pack abs, the average increase in fitness was about 10%. This is enough to make a noticeable difference in how easily you can manage to do daily tasks, or how much energy and stamina you might have to get through a busy day. This means that by the time you get to kick back and watch some TV before heading to bed, you’ll actually get to watch the entire episode of your favorite show, rather than falling asleep on the sofa. Overall, better fitness means more energy for the day to day things that matter to you, which in turn means a better quality of life.

These benefits improvements took place in as little as eight weeks of regular walking, with the most people in the studies walking 30 minutes, three to five times per week as part of an organized program. You don’t have to “start exercising” to make walking worthwhile though. A few 8-10 minute walks per day can give the same benefits as a single 30-minute session, which in real life might mean walking around the block in the morning and evening. (An additional benefit of “starting small” is that often you just need a nudge to get going. It’s easy to extend once you’ve gotten out the door – or onto the treadmill.)

Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that health and fitness improvements aren’t all-or-nothing. Instead, they happen on a continuum, and in fact any movement has a positive impact on your fitness levels and health risks, and therefore your quality of life. It doesn’t have to be high intensity to be worthwhile; your own brisk walking pace will be just fine. So whether you have five minutes to spare, or fifty, it’s all worth doing – what are you waiting for?

 

More Information
Murtagh, E. M., Nichols, L., Mohammed, M. A., Holder, R., Nevill, A. M., & Murphy, M. H. (2015). The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Preventive Medicine, 72, 34-43. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.12.041
Phys. Act. Guidel. Advis. Comm. 2008Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report: 2008Washington, DCUS Dep. Health Hum. Serv. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/Report/pdf/CommitteeReport.pdf

Brain-Boosting Exercise

Exercise 101:  It builds muscle, and increases fitness, and can make life a little easier – and not just physically!

It’s well known that exercise and physical activity helps you maintain good physical health. Did you know that exercise is good for your mental health too? Maybe you’ve heard that it’s a primary treatment recommendation for depression, or heard a friend describe getting a mental boost from a workout. Maybe you’ve had the really strong “I FEEL GREAT” feelings after you’re done. But where does that boost come from?

exercise fun

While these “feel-good” feelings are stimulated by exercise, their actual source is in the brain itself. During times of stress, which is how the body perceives exercise, the brain releases endorphins, a type of hormone that we commonly associated with a rush of euphoria. These hormones help block any pain signals that the stress might be causing, as a preventative measure of sorts.

They also make you feel damn good. As above, endorphins create feelings of euphoria – they are chemically similar to morphine! – and can increase positive thoughts and feelings. The “endorphin effect” can be both immediate and (with regular exercise) long-lasting. My first-hand experience with post-workout elation and exhilaration has made me a strong supporter of exercise as a useful element of treatment for depression and anxiety, both of which have popped up in my life. And there’s growing support that exercise can play a role in treatment and prevention of other mental illnesses, including helping to manage physical health challenges that can sometimes occur alongside.

It’s not just about feeling good, though. Long-term mental health can also get a boost from exercise. During times of stress, the brain releases another biochemical protein: brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein protects brain cells and their connections with each other, called synapses, which in turn helps improve brain cell signaling and can reverse cell damage. Improved connections between brain circuits mean improved memory, attention span, and processing speed. In some studies, increased levels of BDNF have actually been shown to have a reparative effect, and may eventually help us restore learning abilities and memory. Even low-key or modest levels of exercise, like going for a walk every day, have been show to produce BDNF-related improvements.

Neurons

The protective effects of BDNF extend throughout life. Many studies of brain health in older adults have shown that people who were more physically active earlier in life were less likely to develop degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In the early stages of these diseases, people can also benefit from exercise: the aforementioned walk can help prevent disease progression. We tend to produce less BDNF as we age. Given the benefits, it makes sense to get moving regardless of current age or mental health.

Biochemicals aside, exercise actually benefits the brain in some of the same ways that it benefits the rest of our body. The blood vessels in our brains are very small, but still susceptible to the same types of damage as any of our other blood vessels. A stroke is one of the most common types of cardiovascular disease, and is the brain equivalent of a heart attack. While large strokes are usually quickly noticeable, small ones may occur without your knowledge. Tiny blockages leading to potentially unnoticeable mini-strokes can damage small areas of the brain and may lead to long-term mental health decline. You can vastly decrease your risks though: Your brain’s blood vessels are positively affected by exercise – the same way as the rest of your blood vessels throughout your body. Good blood vessel health (also called vascular health) also means optimal blood flow to the brain, and with it, optimal delivery of nutrients and oxygen. Sounds like a good idea to keep those channels open!