How exercise may aid your memory

Two new experiments, one involving people and the other animals, suggest that regular exercise can substantially improve memory, although different types of exercise seem to affect the brain quite differently. The news may offer consolation for the growing numbers of us who are entering age groups most at risk for cognitive decline…

For the human study, published in The Journal of Aging Research, scientists at the University of British Columbia recruited dozens of women ages 70 to 80 who had been found to have mild cognitive impairment…

Earlier, the same group of researchers had found that after weight training, older women with mild cognitive impairment improved their associative memory, or the ability to recall things in context — a stranger’s name and how you were introduced, for instance.

Now the scientists wanted to look at more essential types of memory, and at endurance exercise as well. So they randomly assigned their volunteers to six months of supervised exercise. Some of the women lifted weights twice a week. Others briskly walked. And some, as a control measure, skipped endurance exercise and instead stretched and toned…

And in this study, after six months, the women in the toning group scored worse on the memory tests than they had at the start of the study. Their cognitive impairment had grown…But the women who had exercised, either by walking or weight training, performed better on almost all of the cognitive tests after six months than they had before.

There were, however, differences…While both exercise groups improved almost equally on tests of spatial memory, the women who had walked showed greater gains in verbal memory than the women who had lifted weights…

That…tallies nicely with the results of the other recent study of exercise and memory, in which lab rats either ran on wheels or, to the extent possible, lifted weights. Specifically, the researchers taped weights to the animals’ tails and had them repeatedly climb little ladders to simulate resistance training.

After six weeks, the animals in both exercise groups scored better on memory tests than they had before they trained. But it was what was going on in their bodies and brains that was revelatory. The scientists found that the runners’ brains showed increased levels of a protein known as BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is known to support the health of existing neurons and coax the creation of new brain cells. The rat weight-trainers’ brains did not show increased levels of BDNF…

What all of this new research suggests, says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia who oversaw the experiments with older women, is that for the most robust brain health, it’s probably advisable to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training. It seems that each type of exercise “selectively targets different aspects of cognition,” she says, probably by sparking the release of different proteins in the body and brain…

“When we started these experiments,” she says, “most of us thought that, at best, we’d see less decline” in memory function among the volunteers who exercised, which still would have represented success. But beyond merely stemming people’s memory loss, she says, “we saw actual improvements,” an outcome that, if you’re waffling about exercising today, is worth remembering.

Yet another study that validates above all else – it’s better to get off your rusty dusty and exercise yourself. Do what you can as well as you can. Experiment, trial, adopt what you seem best to fit to your lifestyle – and stay physically active. To the point of aerobic fitness whenever possible.

There are a few bits and pieces of this old body that are failing me from overuse. Mostly my feet from years of technical hill-walking and backpacking – followed by a decade or so of late-in-life racket sports. I hammered my skinny feet out to a D from a double-A over time. But, if I’m careful and remember my cane, I get in several moderately-paced walks each day.

Our dog won’t let me get away with less. 🙂

One thought on “How exercise may aid your memory

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.