While the Center for Disease Control & Prevention recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week for optimal cardiovascular health, in addition to twice weekly strength training sessions for bone and joint health, preliminary research suggests that as little as six minutes a day may improve the health of your brain.
In a study conducted at UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurology of Learning & Memory, researchers asked adults between the ages of 50 and 85 to ride a stationary bike for six minutes at 70-percent their maximum capacity. While biking, test subjects were shown a series of pleasant images, such as a family sitting down to supper, or a bee pollinating a flower. One hour later, they were asked to complete a surprise memory test. As predicted, recall was better in the biking group than in the sedentary control group, suggesting that even small bouts of cardiovascular exercise can enhance brain function.
Exercise works on the brain by triggering the release of norepinephrine, commonly referred to as the “mood hormone.” Norepinephrine is actually a powerful neurotransmitter that enhances mental alertness, improves memory, and increases energy, which in turn can relieve depression and various symptoms of fatigue. Given that many fatigue and fibromyalgia patients have weakened muscles from disuse, and often experience pain in the effort to move, it is best to begin slowly and progress gradually in your approach to exercise. For example, you might begin by performing 10-20 minutes’ of yoga, swimming, water aerobics, or light walking, and gradually increase to 30-45minutes, three to four times per week. Slow progression allows you to strengthen your muscles and supporting joints over time, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
Next time, we will take a closer look at fibromyalgia as a pain disorder, with a particular focus on how it differs from other disorders, such as rheumatism and osteoarthritis.