How to Build Brain HealthPosted by Medicare Made Clear
You probably know that physical activity is good for your heart and for weight management. You may know that it can reduce the symptoms of depression. But did you know that exercise may help keep your brain fit?
A fit brain means you can think clearly, understand ideas and remember things. These are all part of what’s called “cognitive function.” Memory and thinking become muddled when cognitive function is impaired. Cognitive impairment is a risk factor for increasing dementia and for Alzheimer’s disease. This is a concern for older adults, many of whom are on Medicare.
This is Your Brain on Exercise
Scientists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, first discovered that exercise helps bulk up the brain back in 1990. Their experiments showed that physically active mice had better memories than sedentary mice.
Recent human research supports and builds on the animal research. Here are just a few findings:
- Physical fitness in middle age is associated with a lower chance of developing dementia after age 65. (Annals of Internal Medicine, February 2013)
- Physically active older adults were almost 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those who were inactive. For those with Alzheimer’s, physical activity helped slow disease progression. (Ontario Brain Institute, 2013)
- Volunteers with mild cognitive impairment performed better on almost all cognitive tests after six months of exercising. Exercise included walking or weight training. Those who didn’t exercise performed worse. (Neuroscience, January 2012)
- Increased physical activity, including walking, may help maintain or improve cognitive function in normal adults. (National Institutes of Health Conference, 2010)
It’s important to note that it’s not necessary to “work out” to benefit from physical activity. You don’t need to be in the gym five days a week putting your bodies through grueling, sweat-inducing routines. In the cited studies, many participants kept active simply through daily activities. They took walks, gardened and did household chores. That was enough to improve thinking and memory.
While moderate exercise can have a positive impact, complicated activities can offer a bonus. Exercise that engages the brain, like playing tennis or taking a dance class, enhanced the production of new brain cells in NIH study participants. It also helped build more connections between brain cells, which helped improve learning.
Physical activity is important for staying healthy and strong at any age. And for brain fitness, just as for physical fitness, consistency is the key. It’s important to find activities you enjoy that fit into your everyday life—and do them regularly. Your brain will thank you for it.
Remember: Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.
Medicare.gov: Visit the official U.S. government site for Medicare.
Growing Stronger: Get tips and resources for strength training.
Brain Health Webinar: Watch AARP’s presentation on how to live a brain-healthy lifestyle.
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