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You have heard it numerous times: Exercise is pretty close to being a miracle activity with respect to wellness. Here are my top 5 benefits of exercise for mental well-being.

  1. You think more clearly.
  2. You feel better overall.
  3. You may protect yourself against cognitive decline that occurs with age.
  4. You can lower your stress level.
  5. You can help fight depression.

Yes, but… how long do you need to do physical activity to reap these benefits? Clinical research points to a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes. For example, researchers looked at the exercise habits of hundreds of breast cancer survivors who had symptoms such as so-called chemo brain, a phenomenon that involves some memory loss and challenges focusing.

As little as walking 30 minutes for four days per week (for 12 weeks) seemed to strengthen connectivity in a region of the brain where weakened connections have been associated with memory loss. Walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes for 10 consecutive days can reduce depression. Still, some data suggests that we should do cardio activity for longer. You may wish to aim for at least 45 minutes, combining muscle-building activities such as push-ups with aerobic activity.

Why does exercise provide a brain boost? We really don’t know, but it may have something to do with improved blood flow and oxygenation. You may also lower the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Try aiming for 45 minutes to an hour or exercise on as many days of the week as you can. And if you cannot do that, walk. For those challenged to do even that, try to stand every 45 minutes, even if you only do so for a few minutes. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.