One Type of Exercise Helps Your Brain the Most

January 29, 2023

One Type of Exercise Protects Your Brain the Best

In the era of FitBits and ultrasensitive measuring devices, we can now monitor just about exactly whatever you do, all day long. Using that for a useful purpose becomes the next stage of lifestyle research. Wouldn't you like to know if there is any benefit to taking the stairs instead of the elevator? How about walking the dog briskly, or slowly. How about jogging, or folding laundry? Is there a benefit to emptying the dishwasher? Ah! We can now tell you. 

This week's study from the BMJ was all over CNN because it was designed to answer just that question. Movement measuring devices were attached to the thighs of 4,500 mid-life British subjects in the longitudinal cohort study starting in 1970. At age 46, they were offered the opportunity to participate and did. They were studied for 7 days around the clock. They were also tested for verbal memory and executive function. 

Here is the "good news". Moderate activity, of just 6-9 minutes a day, could be shown to assist in better memory, problem-solving and executive function. Moderate activity is something that gets your heart rate up. Biking on the flat doesn't count. Uphill does. Stairs do too....6-9 minutes worth. Aerobic dancing, running, jogging, and swimming all work. Just plain standing, walking around, making the bed, cooking dinner,... those don't do it. It takes a threshold of getting your heart rate up. Now, that explains why 6 minutes of High-Intensity Interval Training works too.

Now, it we can talk you into 20 minutes, that's better yet. But the bottom line, the take-home message, is that your brain will function better with just 6-9 minutes of anything that gets your heart rate up and makes you a bit breathless. (No, that wasn't mentioned.).  And you can tell the difference in just a week.

www.What will Work for me. This is the first study that I've seen that measures mid-life exercise and its effect on "executive function"...decision making. Your brain needs something that exercise provides, and likes a bit more than most of us get. Osteocalcin, the protein that binds calcium and binds it into bone also is known to turn on muscle growth and brain growth. I suspect that is an important link. If you want to go down that rabbit hole, you might be intrigued to understand that osteocalcin is activated by Vitamin K2 (Not K1!). If you can do 40 pushups (men), walk a brisk 3 minute mile (either gender), get up from the ground without touching the floor with your hands, you will live longer. Being fit matters for your longevity, and for a brain to accompany you on the way. My experience is that 25 deep knee bends really gets me winded. I can't do 30 quite yet, but I'm working on it.

References : BMJ,, Women's Health, Cell Metabolism, Nat Rev Endocrin, Jr Bone Miner Res.,

Pop Quiz  

1. You can prove your memory is better with how many minutes of moderate exercise?                       Answer: 6-9 minutes 

2. And that can be measured in normal 46 year olds in how long a period of time?                      Answer: Just 7 days will show a measurable difference 

3. Watching TV and cheering for the Packers counts, doesn't it.                         Answer: No 

(at least not this season). Sedentary couch time, sleeping, standing, folding laundry, may all be noble deeds and worthy of being done...but don't help your brain like exercise 

4. How do I know my exercise is good enough?                                     Answer: Gets your heart rate up and may get you sweaty if the weather isn't too chilly. 

5. Do weights and heavy lifting help?                                         Answer: Indeed it does, just work it enough to get sweaty. Cross Fit can be designed for anyone where ever they are on life's path. Repeated exercise, enough to get you winded and your heart rate up. Your brain will benefit from it.