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Brain Fitness: Can physical exercise really improve your memory?


Short answer … Yes.  An article on my CNN phone app caught my attention yesterday. Titled, “It’s time to get your brain in shape”, it included a list of things you can do daily to keep your brain sharp. You won’t be surprised that one of them was physical exercise. Still, it’s easier to associate improved brain function with mental exercise and a healthy diet. How does physical exercise make a difference, even in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease? The CNN article states that, “exercise enhances the growth and survival of new neurons in the hippocampus – a region of the brain essential for long-term memory – which may be able to replace others that degenerate as a result of the disease.” So read that again … exercise can replace memory neurons that degenerate. So it’s not just preventative, it’s restorative!

For you science geeks interested in more detail, another article from Harvard Health Publications, Get your heart pumping in the fight against forgetfulness, claims that exercise “stimulates brain regions that are involved in memory function to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better. … BDNF isn’t available in a pill. Only the brain can make it, and only with regular exercise. That means 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, ideally five days a week. The threshold for brain benefit seems to be raising your heart rate to 70% of maximum. For men, the maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus age.”

I love finding evidence on the health benefits of regular exercise beyond weight loss. Our culture puts a high value on cognitive strength as well as physical strength. Isn’t it cool to know you can improve both with the same investment of effort?

What surprising health benefits have you seen from your exercise regimen?


First in Training, NC

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Trends in corporate employee wellness programs

Check this out. According to the article, Trend: Employee Wellness published by Great Place to Work, 55 of the top 100 best workplaces in 2013 offered financial incentives for employees to participate in wellness programs. And the incentives ranged from an average of $460 to a best of $2600 so it’s not just a token. The article also credits companies for having onsite gyms or subsidies for offsite fitness centers. Gym benefits have been around a bit longer though but the point here is the trend.

The trend involves two good things:

  • More companies are actively supporting health & fitness
  • Companies are getting more creative and flexible with their programs

I really love the idea of an incentive for participating in a wellness program on your own. Gyms aren’t for everyone but if they’re your thing, you will probably use one with or without a subsidy. An incentive for a wellness program could (and should) be for whatever it is that works for each individual. It might be food counseling or a step tracker or personal exercise therapy.

With all of the changes and unknowns related to how health care is and will be paid for it makes intense sense for employers who have a stake in it on many levels to invest on the prevention side of health care. Do you agree?

If you got a financial incentive for a wellness program, what would you use it for?


First in Training, NC