The last year has been stressful. And for many of us, that stress impacted our physical activity routine. With summer winding down, we have tips to help you get and stay active.
Exercise to Protect Your Brain’s Health
Regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Not only is exercise good for your muscles and bones, but it is also an important part of keeping your brain healthy too.
Physical exercise, and aerobic exercise in particular, is very beneficial for maintaining brain health, even in people who are at risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. So, to preserve your cognitive health, your best bet is to work out your body and your mind through regular exercise and socially stimulating activities.
How Exercise Boosts Your Brain Power
As your heart rate increases during exercise, blood flow to the brain increases, which exposes your brain to more oxygen and nutrients. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Exercise also results in a happier brain! When you exercise, your body releases chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins that make you feel happy. Exercise helps your brain get rid of chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious. People who exercise tend to be happier and less stressed than those who don’t exercise. Regular exercise can also help you control your emotions when you do feel angry or upset.
Get Your Heart Pumping
Walking and other forms of aerobic exercise that get your heart pumping yield benefits for the brain. Standard recommendations advise half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or 150 minutes a week. If that seems intimidating, start with a few minutes a day, and increase the amount you exercise by five or 10 minutes every week until you reach your goal.
Here are some strategies to try:
Do a five-in-five workout. This is an intense, all-around workout you can complete in just five minutes. Choose five exercises (such as those suggested below) and do each one for 1 minute, adding up to a 5-minute mini-workout.
- Jumping jacks: This exercise raises your heart rate, helps warm up the body, and builds lower body strength.
- Squats: Squats build your leg and hip muscles. Squat either with a shoulder-width stance with your feet pointed straight ahead, or a wider stance where your feet are wider apart than your shoulders and pointed outward at a 45° angle.
- Push-ups: This works the shoulders, triceps, and chest at the same time. If you can’t do a traditional push-up, perform them on your knees or against the wall.
- Plank: This move works your entire core and lower back. Make sure to keep a straight back and don’t raise or dip your hips. If this is too difficult, hold the plank position while on your knees.
Add activity to daily routines. You have to do specific tasks every day, so use those moments to sneak in some movement. For example, walk around your neighborhood for 10 to 20 minutes after lunch or dinner; dance when you cook or clean; use kettlebells and/or resistance bands while you watch TV; park far away from the store or your work building so you get a little extra walking.
Prime your environment for success. Visual cues help you make exercise a habit. Place your sneakers and socks by your bed, so you’ll be reminded to put them on first thing in the morning. Park your bicycle in full sight where you’ll see it regularly. Set out your workout clothes, gym bag, and water bottle by the door.
Reach Your Health Goals With Omada
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Get a good night’s sleep
Getting a good night’s rest is another essential way to improve your mental health. When you sleep, your brain and body can refresh and recharge. This, in turn, helps you to be at your best during your waking hours.
Try these healthy habits to improve your quality of rest and mental health:
- Turn off electronic screens at least 60 minutes prior to sleeping.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine or heavy meals right before bedtime.
- Turn off lights before bed.
- Go to sleep and wake at regular, consistent times.
Headspace’s sleepcasts help you wind down to prepare your mind for sleep. Visit the Headspace article on People Services to register.
The Serious Issue of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity has been called “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century,” and with good reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 17 percent of 2- to 19-year-old American children are obese, as measured by their body mass index (BMI) percentile. The rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
Obesity can harm nearly every system in a child’s body-heart and lungs, muscles and bones, kidneys and digestive tract, as well as the hormones that control blood sugar and puberty–and can also take a heavy social and emotional toll. Children and teens who are overweight or obese have substantially higher odds of remaining overweight or obese as adults, increasing their risk of disease and disability later in life.
Help Your Kids Eat Healthy and Move More
The National Institutes of Health’s We Can! program provides a few tips on helping kids eat right, increase physical activity and reduce sitting/screen time:
Make healthy choices easy
- Put healthy food where it’s easy to see.
- Put a bowl of washed fruit, like grapes or apples, on the table.
- At snack time, offer fruit, veggies, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products.
- Limit foods with high calories, fat, and added sugar in your home.
- Keep balls and other sports gear handy for playing active games outside.
Focus on fun
- Cook a healthy new meal together.
- Do physical activities together as a family.
- Plan fun and active things on the weekends, such as:
- Jump rope or double-dutch.
- Walk through the zoo or on a nature trail.
- Play in the park.
- Go to a farmer’s market or community garden.
- Pick a project like building a tree house or painting a room in the house.
Remember that small changes every day can lead to success!
For more information and free resources about childhood obesity and how to build healthy, nutritious habits, visit:
- The Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate website for meal tips, games and apps, and more resources
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (Be sure to download the free 2020-2025 edition of guidelines booklet.)
- The AAP Parenting Website, org, from the American Academy of Pediatricians.
- We Can! is a program from the National Institutes of Health that offers resources for parents, caregivers and communities. To learn more, go to http://wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov or call 1-866-35-WECAN.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tips to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight.