Strong Muscles, Strong Mind

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How to use gym time to keep your brain sharp.

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Ancient Israel’s King Solomon once penned that people can’t indefinitely rely on their smarts because “time and chance happen to them all.” Modern science agrees—age-related cognitive decline is inevitable. But new research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests a simple way to slow the decay: regular resistance training.

The yearlong study tracked three groups of elderly women with white matter lesions (WMLs), which are linked to cognitive impairment and increased falls. One group did strength-training twice a week, another once a week, and the third did twice-weekly balance and toning exercises. After a year, the women who did resistance training twice a week had significantly fewer WMLs than did the other groups.

And the brain benefits of exercise don’t stop there. A study done at the University of North Florida found that dynamic activities that required body awareness—rock or tree climbing, obstacle courses or even walking while paying attention to your posture—improved working memory, a fancy term for remembering, processing and using information. In the study, adults ages 18 to 59 improved their working memory up to 50 percent, when tested two hours after the activity. Two control groups—one learning new information via lecture and another while doing static yoga poses—showed no improvement.

To put these findings into practice, commit to at least two resistance-training sessions per week, and challenge yourself daily with activities like rock climbing, dynamic balance drills, or learning new sports or activities.

Kale Quinoa Salad with Red Grapes
Recipe Type: Salad
Author: Rebecca Katz
Serves: Serves 4
When it comes to thinking skills, it’s not just what you do that matters but also what you eat. Feed your noggin with this brain-friendly recipe adapted from [i]The Healthy Mind Cookbook[/i] by Rebecca Katz.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups stemmed, finely chopped kale
  • ¼ cup lightly packed, chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ cup lightly packed, chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¼ cup halved red seedless grapes, or 3 tablespoons raisins
Instructions
  1. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer; rinse well under cold running water.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring 1½ cups of water and ½ teaspoon of the salt to a boil over high heat. Add quinoa and cover. Decrease heat to low and simmer for 15–20 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until quinoa is just tender. Remove from heat and allow quinoa to rest for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
  3. While quinoa is cooking, whisk together lemon juice, remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, cumin, coriander, crushed red pepper flakes and olive oil together in a large bowl. Add kale and give it a quick massage with your hands. Add quinoa, mint, parsley, lemon zest and grapes and toss lightly to combine. Serve at room temperature.

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