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We work our bodies hard at Jazzercise. I had a new student in class last week who commented afterward that the workout was “harder than expected”. Nice. A tough workout is what we want, yes? For that heart, those lungs, those muscles?

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The benefits of a workout like Jazzercise, i.e. one that makes us think while moving our bodies, go beyond the body to include the brain. And since March is Brain Awareness Month (or Week, March 11-18, depending on your google search) it’s a great time to acknowledge the benefits of what brainhq.com calls “The Golden Duo”: “. . . dancing, an activity with both physical and mental demands has had a higher impact on cognitive functioning over exercise or mental tasks alone, indicating that the best brain health workouts involve those that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy.”

Wait a sec. Isn’t this blog called “The Golden Trio”? Well, over the years I’ve experienced another major brain benefit of our Jazzercise program. Socializing. A sense of community. A place to connect with like-minded people. Jazzercise is a place to belong. I’ve been teaching Jazzercise for almost 16 years and I count the friends I’ve made here among my best. I mean, we dance, laugh, cry, and sweat together. Sometimes we travel together. Who could ask for more?

Let’s back up a step and look at what happens to the brain as we age. Says psychologytoday.com, “We even talk slower. Our memory starts to fail, especially the short-term form of memory ability that is so crucial for learning new things. Brain-scan technology reveals aging can cause the brain to shrink . . . The challenge for aging individuals is to reduce the rate of decline.”

A good reason to keep coming to class regularly, huh? So your brain doesn’t shrink? Yikes. There are a couple of potential causes for this mental decay. Diminished blood flow in small vessels plugged by cholesterol or ruptured by high blood pressure is one. Another? According to psychologytoday.com, “. . . the lifetime cumulative effect of oxidative free radicals that result from energy metabolism.” Say what?

Well, despite your age, you best read on because psychologytoday.com also says “research shows a lifetime of vigorous learning helps prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease.”

Turns out the brain is a bit of a hog when it comes to oxygen. It only weighs about 3.5 pounds, but uses 20% of the body’s oxygen. Consequently, it’s subject to damage from inflammatory chemicals from time to time. Two common causes are infections, such as colds and flu, and diets deficient in antioxidants.

We can only do so much to ward off colds and flu – this winter has been particularly brutal – but diet we can control. As discussed last month in Heart Healthy Habits, add to your diet the good stuff. Foods that fight inflammation: tomatoes, fruits, nuts, olive oil, leafy greens, fatty fish. Foods to limit, or stay away from all together? Fried things like French fries (dang!), sodas, refined carbs (white bread), lard, processed meats. On draxe.com I found this list of the top ten antioxidant herbs: clove, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cocoa, cumin, parsley, basil, ginger and thyme.

A proper diet not only helps control inflammation, but it also has a positive affect on cholesterol levels and blood pressure, potential threats mentioned above.

Genes and luck do play a part in how well we age, but exercise, diet and mental activity can seriously impact this. “Two genes have already been identified that become expressed as new memories are formed,” says psychologytoday.com.

To recap. For optimum brain health. Eat well. Sleep well. Learn well, throughout your entire life. And continue to enjoy “The Golden Trio” of benefits Jazzercise offers: nourishment for the brain, body and soul.

by Rita Hartley