It’s unpleasant, but it’s true — as we get older, our brains get a little... hazy. As aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, the noggin actually shrinks, losing many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45 Exercise counteracts declining hippocampal function in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Intlekofer KA, Cotman CW. Neurobiology of Disease. 2012 June 30.. Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.
This one is a big one, since inflammation may be an underlying cause of a wide range of diseases and disorders in both body and brain. Exercise is known to reduce a number of inflammatory markers, like c-reactive protein (CRP) and internleukin-6 (IL-6), which are linked to a number of diseases. “The thing about exercise is that it has a multitude of effects on many different organs and systems,” says Suzi Hong, who studies exercise and immune system activation at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, “so often it is difficult to pinpoint which organ systems are influenced and which ones are not with which specific effects for what conditions… The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise are likely one of the underpinnings of its effects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, neurodegenerative conditions and more.”
If you're ready to move on from classic Bulgarian split squats, Swan's amped-up variation gets your upper body in on the action for a true total-body exercise. "This combination move works your legs, butt, chest, back, arms, and core," she says. "And it not only hits all the major muscle groups—it also lets you work on balance." Give it a shot and you'll see why.