When we think about exercise, we usually think about the physical benefits: healthier hearts, stronger bones and the ability to enjoy our favorite activities. But there could also be important mental benefits that are just as vital to our overall health and wellness. In fact, even the smallest amount of movement can help brain function, which is wonderful news for people with impaired mobility due to injury or illness.
“Activity, whether small or large, requires planning, sequencing and coordination and thereby connects the mind and body,” said Sanjay Iyer, M.D., a neurologist at Neurosciences Physical Institute-Neurology Charlotte.
“Exercise can help restore the balance of certain chemicals in the brain that may promote an overall feeling of wellness and improve memory and motor function.”
The fact is that moving your body is good for your brain — while not moving your body may be harmful.
“We know that if you do nothing, no exercise at all, your brain function, cognitive ability, IQ and speed of processing information all decrease at about 5 percent every 10 years,” explains Michael F. Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic.
Physical movement might even spark creativity. A 2014 Stanford University study found that participants who walked on a treadmill versus sitting during various cognitive tests showed an increase of 81 percent in their creativity.
Want to boost your memory and mental health even more? Tap into the power of nature. Taking your workout outside — or simply strolling through a park — may further boost your brainpower. A study in Psychological Science found that when participants walked in an arboretum, their short-term memory increased by 20 percent — but showed no increase after walking down city streets. “Going outside and getting fresh air promotes a sense of well-being by increasing vitamin D levels through exposure to sunlight,” said Dr. Iyer. “As one exercises and increases his or her heart rate, there is improved circulation within the brain, which helps to maximize mood and cognition.”
Getting physically and mentally active has never been easier for select UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members, thanks to Renew Active. Renew Active is a great combo package to help people to get physically and mentally fit, all while being designed around personal goals for your mind and body and is available at no additional cost.
Renew Active provides standard access to participating national and local fitness locations to help you keep moving. The program also features many engaging online brain games, to help keep your brain active.
The bottom line: No matter your current health or fitness level, simply keep moving, said Dr. Roizen. “Any physical activity, no matter how small, is better for your mental health than none at all.”
You know your body best, but it’s still smart to talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise programs. Plus, he or she may have a few brain-boosting exercise ideas that are just right for you.
Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.
Participation in the Renew Active™ by UnitedHealthcare program is voluntary. Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine. Equipment and classes may vary by location. Services, including equipment, classes, personalized fitness plans provided by fitness centers, and brain activities provided by BrainHQ, are provided by third parties not affiliated with AARP or UnitedHealthcare. AARP and UnitedHealthcare do not endorse and are not responsible for the services or information provided by this program. Availability of the Renew Active™ program varies by plan/area. Renew Active is not a standard benefit available on all plans. Some plans require the purchase of an additional fitness rider.