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Exercise benefits

Posted: December 31, 2013 9:06 a.m.
Updated: January 1, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The beginning of a new year is a traditional time for people to try to improve parts of their lives with which they’re not satisfied. New year’s resolutions aren’t always kept, but they’re a step in the right direction, and they often revolve around people determining to take better care of themselves. It’s long been know that exercise cuts the risk of heart disease and a host of other physical ailments, including diabetes. Researchers are now finding that fitness has a long-term effect upon brainpower and can play a crucial role in staving off dementia.

The evidence is overwhelming, with a host of studies showing “brain benefit” through exercise. For instance, a 2010 German study followed 4,000 people older than 55 for two years, finding that those who rarely took part in physical activities were more than twice as likely to suffer from a cognitive impairment by the end of the study as those who engaged in some sort of exercise, such as gardening, swimming and cycling. Other studies have shown that exercise is beneficial at every stage of life, from youth to old age.

The reasons are complex and one of the most fascinating discoveries is that in addition to boosting brainpower, exercise simply makes people feel better. It helps spur the release of chemicals which give us pleasant feelings -- the same sensation that is often described as a “runner’s high.” But that principle works not only with vigorous exercise such as running, but with other forms that are easier for most people, such as walking.

We are far away from understanding many things about the brain, as witnessed by science’s inability to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. But virtually every study shows a benefit from exercise, and delaying or preventing dementia is a powerful motivator. And the best thing is that it’s never too late to start. That’s why we hope many Kershaw County residents will indeed make new year’s resolutions that involve better fitness -- and then stick to them.

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