There’s an all-natural way to boost your mood, improve your memory, and protect your brain against aging—and it all starts at the gym.
By Brooke Nelson
It’s practically a no-brainer that exercise has some incredible perks for your body’s health. But the next time you lace up your sneakers for a run at the gym, don’t leave your brain behind; turns out, exercise can benefit your mind, too.
Raising your heart rate and sweating for a sustained period of time, also known as aerobic exercise, is key to a healthy brain AND heart, according to a new study published this month. Like plenty of experts before them, the researchers found that aerobic exercise “has a significant, overwhelmingly beneficial impact on the brain,” Business Insider reports. (Exercise also does these bizarre things to your body.)
The latest study analyzed the effects of aerobic exercise on the memories of breast cancer survivors. Researchers wanted to test the effects of activities like walking and swimming on “chemo brain,” a common symptom of breast cancer treatment involving memory loss and shortened attention span.
Nearly 300 participants, all breast cancer survivors, received accelerometers to track their daily activity. They were also given an iPad app called BrainBaseline, whose quizzes would gauge their focus and memory. After one week, participants who exercised every day reported feeling less fatigued than those who did little to no exercise, and they also performed significantly better on the app’s quizzes.
“The message for cancer patients and survivors is, get active!” said Diane Ehlers, the lead author on the study and a professor of exercise psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, in a statement.
The week-long study merits future research on the benefits of exercise for cancer patients, particularly given its short time frame. Still, it can’t hurt to get more active—regardless of age or health—and the research suggesting the positive effects of exercise are nearly indisputable.
Ready to try it yourself? You can expect to feel some of this exercise’s positive side effects right away, such as a boost in mood. Others, like improved memory, might take several weeks before you notice them. To reap the most benefits, experts recommend doing any aerobic exercise regularly and consistently for at least 45 minutes at a time, especially for adults aged 50 or older. (Exercise can have these great benefits for your immune system, too!)
And it couldn’t be easier to get started! These tricks will get you motivated to hit the gym—right now.
More: Everyday Wellness Fitness Aging Well Psychology The Human Brain