This is a particularly cool one. Neuroscientists used to believe the brain was the only organ incapable of growing new cells—which partly makes sense, since we need our brains to be relatively stable over time, to keep our memories intact and to keep us us. But in recent years, it’s become clear that the brain, too, can grow new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis. And what seems to spur the growth of new neurons, perhaps above other activities, is aerobic exercise. (Other things, like meditation and antidepressant medication, have also been shown to trigger brain new cell growth.) The area of the brain that seems most capable of growing new cells is the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. It's also the area that’s known to “shrink” in depression, and particularly in dementia—so the fact that we may have some control over its health is exciting.
Take a towel—technically not gear!—and run it underneath the seat of a chair—also technically not gear!—and, with the back of the chair facing away from you, do a set of biceps curls. This works only with standard, four-legged chairs in the 10-to-15 pound range, although if you can figure out how to manage it with your caster-mounted office chair, more power to you.)
Get in plank position with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart (A). Lower your chest as close to the floor as you can. Holding that position, lift your right knee to the outside of your right elbow (B). Return to plank position, then push back up to start; repeat on the other side. That's one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
Countless studies show that many types of exercise, from walking to cycling, make people feel better and can even relieve symptoms of depression. Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine—that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress. “For years we focused almost exclusively on the physical benefits of exercise and really have ignored the psychological and emotional benefits of being regularly active,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
Then, step your left foot directly behind you (about 2 feet) and bend both knees to lower into a reverse lunge, creating two 90-degree angles with your legs. In this positioning, your shoulders should be directly above your hips and your chest should be upright (not leaning forward or back). Your right shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your right knee should be stacked above your right ankle. Your butt and core should be engaged.
Push-ups aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when you’re trying to get rid of that excess arm fat, they’re a pretty killer workout. Push-ups not only tone your biceps and triceps, they’re a great way to build muscle on your chest, making you feel stronger and look leaner in the process. If the thought of doing traditional plank push-ups has you feeling nervous, try doing the same motion at a 45-degree angle against a wall; you’ll get a similar workout, but without the intensity of a traditional push-up.
And research published in November 2017 in the journal NeuroImage showed that aerobic exercise may be helpful in improving memory function and maintaining brain health as we age. The study, led by researchers at Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University, looked at brain scans of 737 people ranging in ages from 26 to 76. The group included a mix of healthy adults, people with Alzheimer's and other cognitive impairments, and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia. The researchers found that exercises, like riding a stationary bike, running on a treadmill, or walking, slowed down the deterioration of brain size and slowed the effect of age on brain health.
“Body fat is structurally important,” explains Stefanie Mendez, R.D., co-founder of Matriarch, a women's fitness and nutrition service. “It cushions our organs and insulates our body for temperature control and also is our body’s source of energy reserves. Beyond that, fat is needed for the production of hormones and reproduction functions.” And that fat can show up in your thighs, your belly, and, yes, your upper arms. Where it goes is partly due to genetics; if your mom has arm fat, science says you have a 62 percent chance of inheriting that trait.
Research is finding that as we age, exercise may be able to help keep our brains healthy. Three studies presented at the 2015 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference showed that regular exercise may play an important role in protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and may help improve brain function and symptoms such as depression or anxiety in those who have these conditions.
While building strength will get those arms more defined, cardio is still king when it comes to shedding the fat that’s causing your arms to wiggle. Researchers at Duke University studying 119 overweight, sedentary subjects found that those who stuck to a cardio program lost twice the weight of those who did strength training, despite the fact that the cardio group spent 47 fewer minutes exercising every week than their weight-training peers. So, if you’re ready to get that upper body toned and tight, make sure you’re making time for cardio, too.
Squats are well known and pretty crucial to your workout routine. They’re a true multi-tasker. While performing them you practice balance, burn more fat compared to other exercises (due to muscle gain), activate your core and back, and promote circulation. Plus, it’s one of the oldest and most useful functional exercises, which means you’ll have no problem squatting down to reach the bottom of the fridge.
HOW TO DO IT: Assume a staggered squat position with your right leg forward (heel flat) and your left leg staggered behind on its toes, so that the front of your foot is aligned with your right heel. Push your hips back and down as far as you can while staying upright throughout the movement. Walk forwards taking short, choppy steps for 30 to 60 seconds.
In a high plank position—palms flat on the floor beneath your shoulders, arms straight. Ease down on to your left forearm. Then, ease down your right arm until you’re in a forearm plank. Now push up with your right hand and then your left to return to a high plank. Repeat, alternating which side you lower first with each rep.” Lagree recommends doing two sets of ten reps. Another workout worth trying: these 9 resistance band exercises that will work your entire body.
Now that those muscles are uncovered and ready to work on, it’ll be easier for you to see your progress, as the muscles will start to show up through the thinner layer of body fat. Arms are made up of two different muscles — the biceps in the front, and the triceps at the back. The main one to target when toning arms up is the tricep, but working out the bicep at the same time will lend your arms a more balanced structure.
Below, you’ll find a core workout you can do at home, which was created by TruFusion trainer Alyssa West. Working all the muscles in your midsection—including the obliques (the muscles on the side of your body), rectus abdominis (what you think of as “abs”), transverse abdominis (your deepest internal core muscles), and yes, your glutes—is important for many reasons. “Working the [core] helps you maintain balance, good posture, and an overall strong [body],” says West. A solid core gives you a strong and sturdy foundation, which will help you move better in everyday life and be more successful in lifting heavier and pursuing other fitness-related goals. After all, most movements you do require some sort of core engagement to keep you stable, so the stronger these muscles are, the better.