Fitness

Get Fit to Get Smart

The right workout can improve your brainpower, memory, and focus.

Get Fit to Get Smart
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It's not called "jogging your memory" for nothing: According to recent research, regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp. Working out sends oxygen to your brain, an organ that requires ten times as much energy as the rest of your body and never takes a break, says Larry McCleary, M.D., author of The Brain Trust Program (Perigee, 2008). Exercise also stimulates the production of neurotrophins, compounds that enable nerve cells to communicate with each other more effectively—which means it may help lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease, says McCleary.

CROSSTRAIN YOUR BRAIN
To stay mentally young, do at least 20 to 40 minutes of physical activity a day, suggests McCleary. "You want to stimulate your mind with a combination of aerobic activity, strength training, and balance and agility exercises," he says. Learning new skills is another way to improve cognitive functioning, says personal trainer Michelle Dozois, who has produced a number of fitness DVDs and owns the Breakthru Fitness studio in Pasadena, Calif. (breakthrufitness.com).

MOVE DAILY
The following exercise designed by Dozois will keep your brain and body agile. Remember to work out every day: "You'll become less forgetful and more optimistic, which can help prevent dementia," says McCleary.

CROSSOVER JUMPING JACKS
"This move improves your mind-body connection since your brain needs to dictate where your feet should go," says Dozois.

A | Perform the first half of a jumping jack normally: Begin standing with your feet together and arms straight at your sides and then hop your feet apart a few feet while reaching your arms over your head toward the ceiling.

B | As you lower your arms to your sides and prepare to bring your feet back together, cross your right foot in front of your left foot. Repeat the sequence, this time bringing your left foot in front of your right foot. Continue a total of three times.