There's no one-size-fits-all exercise strategy, but we can all make simple lifestyle changes that go a long way toward boosting brain fitness. In his new book, Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance, Majid Fotuhi, medical director of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Lutherville, Md., outlines three fitness plans — one for couch potatoes who never exercise; a second for weekend warriors or those who only work out occasionally; and a third for people who want to bump up their fitness to the optimal level.
"The more fit your body gets, the stronger will be your 'memory muscle' — the hippocampus," says Fotuhi. "For the best brain boost, I recommend 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, plus 15 minutes of resistance training, 5 days a week."
Who said an old dog can't learn new tricks? (Always get your doctor's OK before starting any exercise program.)
If you don't exercise at all:
Week 1: Start by walking for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, three days a week.
Week 2: Increase your walking time to 15 minutes, three days a week.
Week 3: Increase your walking time to 20 minutes, three days a week. In addition to your scheduled time, find ways to be active throughout the day.
If you exercise occasionally:
Week 1: Walk or jog for 20 minutes without interruption, three times a week.
Week 2: Increase your walking or jogging time to 30 minutes, four days a week. If you're walking, try to jog at least some of the time gradually increasing your jogging time if possible. Increase the amount of time you jog as the week goes on.
Week 3: Increase your walking or jogging to 30 minutes, five days a week. Gradually increase the intensity of your workout. If you'd like, you can substitute stationary bike, swimming or another aerobic activity, or you can substitute a one-hour game of tennis (or another intense activity) for two of your 30-minute sessions.
If you've been exercising regularly for years:
Week 1: Do 30 minutes of uninterrupted aerobic activity, five days a week, plus five extra minutes of weight lifting, push-ups or another muscle building activity, three days a week.
Week 2: Continue with 30 minutes of uninterrupted aerobic activity, five days a week. Bump up your muscle-building to 10 minutes, three days a week.
Week 3: Continue with 30 minutes of uninterrupted aerobic activity, five days a week. Bump up your weight lifting to 15 minutes, five days a week. Increase the intensity of your workout as needed so that you're improving your physical fitness.
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