The Grapevine

Exercise Is Good For Memory Too, Not Just Your Body

Nervous about that big test at school or that presentation at work?

Just take a walk, no longer than ten minutes. Not only will it clear your mind but it may also improve your brain's ability to store and recall memories. That is what researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Tsukuba in Japan found in their latest study.

The paper titled "Rapid stimulation of human dentate gyrus function with acute mild exercise" was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept. 24.

The experiment involved 36 participants who were in their early 20s. First, they were instructed to perform a mild form of exercise by using a cycle ergometer for 10 minutes.

After this, they undertook a memory test where they were shown pictures of objects like broccoli or picnic baskets and asked to recall them later. The researchers later repeated the test with the same participants without the mild form of exercise.

"The memory task really was quite challenging," said study co-author Michael Yassa, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine. "We used very tricky similar items to see if they would remember whether it was this exact picnic basket versus that picnic basket."

It was found that people were better at distinguishing the images after 10 minutes of mild exercise, defined as 30 percent of their peak oxygen intake. To take a closer look at what was happening, researchers conducted brains scans on some of the participants to monitor activity during the experiment.

The short burst of exercise, they found, seemed to increase connectivity in the brain regions involved in the storage and recollection of memories. The more a person's performance improved, the more of these physical changes took place in their brain.

This suggested a boost in memory power may be possible to achieve with just 10 minutes of easy activities like walking, yoga or tai chi.

But since all the participants were relatively young, the exact frequency and intensity may slightly vary for other age groups and will be influenced by factors like lifestyle, mobility, disability, etc. 

"An evening stroll is sufficient to get some benefit," Yassa said. "Our main goal is to try to develop an exercise prescription that can be used by older adults who might have disabilities or mobility impairments but can still adopt a very simple exercise regimen and be able to, perhaps, stave off cognitive decline."

The study concluded that this type of experiment should be tested on older adults in future research. Performing a long-term study could be helpful to understand how this affects age-related memory loss such as cognitive decline and dementia.