The Roman poet Juvenal wrote that ‘A man should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body’ (“Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano”), implying that the Gods could grant the ideal. In the 19th Century Liverpudlian John Hulley, one of the founders of the Olympic movement in Britain, shortened it to ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’ or ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’, changing the meaning to emphasise the importance of physical exercise on health and well-being.
Over the years, the motto has become more associated with elite sports where mental strength is seen as being as important as physical prowess, however today there’s growing evidence that we can protect our minds through exercise. Studies repeatedly show that regular physical activity has an impact on the brain and that there’s measurable improvement in recall and mental task performance after as little as 3 months. How much exercise each person needs to see an improvement and to maintain it and how regularly is difficult to quantify – we are all individuals – however anything that makes the heart beat faster and makes talking while exercising more difficult is thought to be about right.
Increasing the amount of physical activity is also thought to be a better solution to obesity than dieting, which people find difficult to stick to. Obesity is known to be a risk factor for many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and dementia, all of which can impact working memory. Recent research by University College London, which looked at the medical records of 1.3 million people across Europe and the USA found that people with a high Body Mass Index (BMI) were more likely to develop dementia 20 years later. The study also suggests that being overweight triggers metabolic changes that eventually leads to weight loss immediately before the onset of dementia. This adds to evidence that dementia actually starts a long time before any signs and symptoms emerge; however, there’s also increasing evidence that, apart from genetic predisposition, changing habits and lifestyle can delay the progression of the disease.
We all know it’s hard to break old habits and form new ones – it’s said to take 21 days to make something simple, like drinking a glass of water, a daily routine; for things that are harder, like taking regular exercise after a sedentary life, it’s said to take over 2 months. This is where friends and family can offer support and goal setting is also useful. Prompt can be used to schedule reminders about goals you’ve set and you’ll feel good acting upon them!