This month’s expert is Arthur Kramer, PhD, Senior Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education at Northeastern University and an issue expert for the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH).
Dear Dr. Kramer,
I try to stay fit to help both my body and brain, but December is always a challenge. Do you have any tips to help me through this busy month?
I’m guessing you’re not the only person struggling with the “December dilemma.” No matter how dedicated people are to their fitness routines throughout the year, December can be a challenge.
Jill, you mentioned that you exercise to benefit both your body and your brain. That’s good to hear. It’s also timely. A recent report from a group I’m involved in called the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) addressed that very topic. I’ll use findings from the report – The Brain–Body Connection: GCBH Recommendations on Physical Activity and Brain Health – and other information to offer tips on how to maintain an exercise program during this busy time of year.
1. Maintain a fitness and sleep schedule.
This is important throughout the year, but especially in December when calendars may include extra activities. If you’re consistent with the time of day you exercise, for example, you’re more likely to maintain your fitness throughout this busy time of year.
The same goes for sleep. Aim for eight hours of sleep each night, even during December. Over the long term, research has linked sleeping less than seven or eight hours a night to cognitive decline and memory loss.
2. Get fit with friends.
Jill, if you’re a social person, you may want to plan some December fitness outings with family and friends. Depending on where you live, you can hike, take brisk walks or cross country ski. Brain health experts refer to this as “social engagement.” It means participating in activities and being connected with your community, family and friends. Social engagement is good for your brain and is associated with a lower risk of dementia/Alzheimer’s disease
3. Mix up your exercise routine.
Infuse some variety into your fitness program this December. For example, if you run the treadmill at your gym two times days a week, change it up with some light circuit training. Also, consider joining a spin class or taking yoga. Your goal – if your overall health allows it – should be to engage in 150 minutes of moderately intense purposeful aerobic exercise each week. This is good for your heart and good for your head.
4. Build physical activity into your day.
Think about where you park when you go to the store. Do you circle the lot looking for a “good” spot or do you head to the furthest parking space you can find? Something this simple can increase the number of steps you take per day. Consider other ways to make your days more active. A walk after dinner…working in your yard…taking the stairs, they’re all good ways to lead a physically active life in December and beyond. Different types of exercise seem to impact the brain in different ways so it’s important to engage in a variety of activities.
Jill, I hope these ideas will help you address your “December dilemma” and get you started on a healthy 2017.