There are many amazing things about my health that I often take for granted but there is one that I cherish on a near daily basis…my cognitive function.
Whether it is sitting here writing this blog post, or working on a tough software engineering problem, or having a meaningful conversation with my wife, or working through a tough problem with my kids, my cognitive capacity is something I count on every single day of my life from the time I wake up till the time I go to bed.
I have also seen far too many people in my life lose their cognitive function to forget how devastating it is once your brain is no longer working the way it used to.
Yes, things like heart health, metabolic health, and body composition are important and get a lot of air time in the health space, but I pay close and special attention when it comes to information about cognitive health.
Modern medicine does not have an effective way to treat problems with the brain once your cognitive health declines…and to be frank I am not going to hope that if/when my cognitive health starts to go there is suddenly a solution.
Instead I want to do everything I possibly can NOW to make sure my brain is in top notch working condition.
As I am writing this post, I am in the midst of reading Outive by Peter Attia and have just finished the chapter in the book on cognitive health. At the end of the chapter he summarizes some of the most effective protocols to help make sure your brain is firing on all cylinders.
Want to know what his #1 suggestion is to keep your brain functioning well into old age?
Here is a direct quote from the book…
“The single most powerful item in our preventative tool kit is exercise…”
(Attia, 2023, 201)
Not diet, not sleep, not some fancy supplement or medication, not some super expensive biohacking device, but he believes exercise is the most powerful thing you can do to prevent cognitive decline.
Why is that?
Attia goes on to say…
“…it [exercise] helps maintain glucose homeostasis and it improves the health of our vasculature.”
(Attia, 2023, 201)
If you are a longtime reader of this blog you have probably heard me write about how exercise can help regulate our blood sugar and also the benefits exercise has on our cardiovascular system, including our vasculature, both of which appear to contribute to cognitive decline.
You might be asking what type of exercise provides these benefits?
Well all types of exercise can help vascular health as well as blood sugar regulation, however we can be more specific…
Strength training will be best for blood sugar regulation, while cardio will be best for vascular health. You can read more about how cardio enhances vascular health in my post on how cardio transforms your body and how strength training helps regulate blood sugar in my post on how strength training is the key to longevity.
Attia’s assertion on exercise’s potent effect on brain health is not without backing. The research tends to back up his claims.
A recent meta-analysis (a study of studies) showed that exercise can improve global cognitive and executive functions in people with cognitive impairment and disk of dementia. The researchers found that all types of exercise were associated with these improvements and that as little as 12 weeks of exercise can REVERSE brain activity signatures of cognitive decline. (Brain Function Effects of Exercise Interventions for Cognitive Decline: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 2023)
The authors of the paper said the mechanisms of action that caused these improvements were increased metabolic activity (ie better blood sugar regulation) and improvements in cerebrovascular function (ie better cardiovascular health) due to exercise…the same mechanisms that Attia mentioned in Outlive.
While metabolic health and vascular health may be the most potent benefits of exercise on brain health, we should also not overlook the other benefits that exercise has on our brain health.
When we exercise we get several other benefits that can keep our brains healthy and functioning at optimal capacity as long as possible.
Exercise has an important impact on the other pillars of our health as well, sleep, stress management, and social connection. It should come as no surprise that all of these also play a role in our brain health.
When you exercise you are going to exert more energy than you would otherwise which ends up adding additional sleep pressure and contributes to better sleep.
In addition exercise provides opportunities to engage socially. Group fitness classes, going for a bike ride, run, or walk with friends, playing a team sport, training together with others to reach a common goal, or just socializing with other people while at the gym, all of these provide unique opportunities to have more social connection.
Exercise is also an outlet for stress relief. Getting in a good workout can take your mind off of everything you have going on in your life.
Our brain not only keeps us alive but it’s what makes us human, it allows us to do all kinds of different things, and it’s what makes you…you! When our brain health declines we are literally losing ourselves…and there is nothing modern medicine has to offer to reverse this. That is why it is important to think about our brain health now and to keep our brains healthy as long as we can. But once again, as is very common with health, the best things we can do to impact our brain health and function is nothing fancy, it is all the lifestyle practices I talk about in my blog and on my newsletter on a weekly basis…exercise, sleep, stress management, social connection, and a diet made up of whole natural foods.
So, if you would like more information on these topics including actionable steps you can take to improve any or all of these lifestyle areas use the form below to sign up for my newsletter and each week I will deliver content right to your inbox that you can put to use right away!
Attia, P. (2023). Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity. Harmony/Rodale.
Brain function effects of exercise interventions for cognitive decline: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (2023, April 21). Frontiers. Retrieved July 17, 2023, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2023.1127065