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Research is finding that as we age, exercise may be able to help keep our brains healthy. Three studies presented at the 2015 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference showed that regular exercise may play an important role in protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and may help improve brain function and symptoms such as depression or anxiety in those who have these conditions.
Previous studies from her lab have also shown that the exercise is linked to changes in the secretion of stress hormones like epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) and norepinephrine. “Our work has shown that each moderate, relatively short exercise bout exerts regulatory/suppression effects over inflammatory activities of immune cells," says Hong, "and in order to maximize this ‘benefit,’ repeated and regular exercise is recommended. In fact, we have also found that higher physical fitness is associated with better regulation of inflammatory activities of immune cells through stress hormones even among obese individuals.”
“Inactivity is associated with increased risk for a number of cancers, including colon and breast cancer,” McCleary says. “Exercise has been linked with a decreased risk of developing cancer, death from cancer, and recurrence of certain cancers.” The suggested mechanisms at play include exercise’s beneficial effects on the immune and surveillance systems that detect and kill cancer cells, improved cardio-respiratory status, improved hormonal profiles, weight maintenance, and other beneficial metabolic effects, he says.
This is a particularly cool one. Neuroscientists used to believe the brain was the only organ incapable of growing new cells—which partly makes sense, since we need our brains to be relatively stable over time, to keep our memories intact and to keep us us. But in recent years, it’s become clear that the brain, too, can grow new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis. And what seems to spur the growth of new neurons, perhaps above other activities, is aerobic exercise. (Other things, like meditation and antidepressant medication, have also been shown to trigger brain new cell growth.) The area of the brain that seems most capable of growing new cells is the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. It's also the area that’s known to “shrink” in depression, and particularly in dementia—so the fact that we may have some control over its health is exciting.
It boosts immunity. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of certain serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. It can also decrease your chances of developing -- and getting stuck with -- more common illnesses, such as flus and colds. (According to one recent study, colds lasted 43 percent longer for people who exercised once a week or less.)
FIT TIP: To trim your tummy, do fewer crunches and more planks: Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, then lower forearms to floor and extend legs straight behind you, balancing on toes. Keeping abs engaged and back flat, hold for 30 seconds; do 10 reps three or four times a week. Limit crunches to no more than three sets of 15 at a time. Anything beyond that isn't doing you much good, experts say.
Exercise has long been linked to better sleep, according to a review article published in December 2014 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Other research suggests exercise may improve sleep and mood in people with insomnia, too, according to a study published in October 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research. Conversely, poor quality sleep has been linked to a wide array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. Given the fact that getting adequate sleep is so crucial for good health, and that exercise is a low-cost, easily accessible solution that offers lots of other health benefits with no risk or side effects, giving exercise a try to improve sleep is a no-brainer.
Begin in a plank position on the forearms. Press the hips up toward the ceiling while staying on the forearms (like an upside 'v') and gently press the heels to the floor. Hold briefly, then come back to your plank and push up onto the hands. Hold (back straight) for a few counts and then press back into a downward dog, stretching the heels to the floor and the chest gently through the arms. Come back into your plank, lower down to the elbows and repeat the entire series.
Hello Cassey, could you please do a back challenge? I think we need something in order to target back fat and bra bulge. We’ve done almost every other muscle group, but not the back. You have said, and I agree, that girls tend to ignore the back as it’s more of a ‘guy thing’, but sculpting a stronger back will definitely help us pull off back-less dresses and remove bra bulge.
Begin in a forearm plank position. Press the right hand into the floor and then the left hand, rising to a high-plank position. Rotate your body to the right and extend the left arm toward the sky for a side-plank variation, allowing the left leg to scissor over the top of the right, with the inner edge of the left foot and the outer edge of the right foot touching the floor. Return to plank position. Release the right forearm back down to the floor and then the left forearm to return to the starting position. Repeat the sequence, this time starting with the left hand and coming to a left side-plank position. Continue the movement pattern without pausing, alternating sides. Complete a total of 10 to 12 reps (five to six reps per side).
Lie on your back with the left leg extended and the right knee bent. Place the right foot on the floor and extend the right arm toward ceiling. Perform a crunch-like movement to lift the upper body, transitioning into a seated position, and continue to reach the right arm up. Place the left hand on the floor next to the left hip and push through the left hand and the right foot to lift the hips off the floor. Extend through the hips, reaching back with the right arm to perform a slight backbend. Slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat five to six reps on the right side before switching to the left.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feet together and hold both arms straight in front of you, palms together. Jump your feet apart, push your hips back, bend your knees and lower into a squat while pulling your arms apart and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Shift your weight over your right leg, and then your left leg, then right and left again before returning back to center and standing back up. Gradually increase your speed and range of motion throughout the set.