How Exercise Can Improve Memory
Can exercise improve memory? According to multiple studies, yes, it can.
The myriad positive effects of exercise on general health and wellbeing have been well and widely documented over the years. From higher levels of happiness to lowered risk of disease, it’s no secret that exercise is one of the keys to a healthier life. And researchers are finding positive links between exercise and memory function.
The best bit? According to studies, even relatively short, moderate bursts of exercise may improve our memories in the long run.
A study by UCI researchers Sabrina Segal, Carl Cotman, and Lawrence Cahill, shows promising results for the short-term impact of exercise on memory. The study took a group of 50-80 year olds, consisting of people with and without memory deficits, and presented them with a series of pleasant images. The participants then spent 6 minutes exercising on stationary bikes at 70% of their maximum capacity. An hour later the group was asked, without prior warning, to recall the images they’d seen earlier. The results displayed a “striking enhancement” of memory in both healthy and cognitively impaired participants.
Sabrina Segal said of the study, “We found that a single, short instance of moderately intense exercise particularly improved memory in individuals with memory deficits.”
These results are consolidated by more recent findings from researchers at UCI and the University of Tsukuba in Japan (https://news.uci.edu/2018/09/24/now-you-just-need-to-remember-to-exercise/). The good news is that their work indicates that it’s even easier for us to obtain the cognitive benefits of exercise. According to the study, which consisted of 36 healthy young participants, just ten minutes of mild exertion can be beneficial to brain health. The researchers observed that shortly after exercising, there was greater connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas (linked to detailed memory processing) of participants’ brains.
The project co-leader, Michael Yassa of UCI, said, “The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories; it’s one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older – and much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease. . . Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”
According to Yassa, even short walks may be effective in improving memory and cognition. And other forms of light exercise, such as yoga and tai chi, may also fit the bill for memory enhancement.
One study in particular, conducted by researchers of the University of Columbia, compared the cognitive effects of exercise in two groups of mice. The difference between the two groups was that one was given access to running wheels whilst the other wasn’t. The mice with the running wheels, as you can probably imagine, ran, whereas the others didn’t. And after several weeks the brains of the running mice showed more evidence of new brain cells and increased blood flow in the memory-related brain area.
To many people, studies like these are very encouraging. They appear to offer us yet another way to take control of our health and wellbeing, and keep ourselves in good shape well into old age.