SOL, the leading sports therapy and chiropractic practice in the entire Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bar Areas. Their goal: To help active individuals to reach their performance goals. And they have a great newsletter. The following is from September, 2013.
E X E R C I S E = B E T T E R M E M O R Y
You’ve experienced forgetting why you walked into a room, strolling through a parking lot in search of your car, or meandering from room to room looking for your glasses, which were on top of your head the whole time.
These stories you don’t forget; they’re good for a self-deprecating laugh at the coffee shop or around the water cooler. But at the same time, you begin to recognize a level of relatable depth in the one-liner by comedian Steven Wright, “Right now, I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time; I think I’ve forgotten this before.”
Your memory, it seems, just isn’t what it used to be.
You’re certainly not alone. Forgetfulness is part of aging, it’s said. But according to a number of researchers recently, there’s a relatively simple way to control the rate of your memory’s decline – perhaps even stifle the potential onset of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive deficits – while also providing your body with countless other long-term health benefits.
The secret? Exercise.
To understand how exercise can affect memory, it’s first necessary to look deep inside the brain at a portion of our medial temporal lobe called the hippocampus. It’s here where our long-term memories are formed, stored, and recalled. And it just so happens that naturally, as we age, our hippocampi gradually shrink.
Studies, however, have shown that regular exercise can slow – even reverse – the shrinkage of this all-important portion of our brains, even in older adults. This can be accomplished with just one year of moderate physical exercise, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois, Rice University, and Ohio State University.
Greater blood levels in the brain due to increased exercise and activity causes the hippocampus growth.
“These theoretically important findings indicate that aerobic exercise training is effective at reversing hippocampal volume loss in late adulthood, which is accompanied by improved memory function,” researchers wrote in a statement. “Such improvements have important implications for the health of our citizens and the expanding population of older adults.”
A recent Mayo Clinic study came to similar conclusions, asserting additional memory-enhancing benefits found in those who begin exercise regimens earlier in life.
“One Mayo Clinic study showed that those who regularly engaged in moderate exercise five to six times a week later in life reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 32 percent compared with more sedentary people,” states the Mayo Clinic website. “Those who began exercising at midlife saw a 39 percent reduction in the risk of mild cognitive impairment.”
The Mayo Clinic sites increased blood flow to the brain and the slowing or reversal of hippocampus deterioration as factors, as well, but they also credit increased levels of substances called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF’s allow for improved levels of brain connections, and according to the Mayo Clinic, they appear to increase with exercise.
While a physician would be remiss to not continually boast the endless health benefits of long-term exercise, short, one-time surges of exercise can also offer its share of benefits, including better memory.
According to a team of research scientists from the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory, older adults in good mental health and who have experienced slight cognitive impairments can experience what they described as “a remarkable increase of memory.”
“We found that a single, short instance of moderately intense exercise particularly improved memory in individuals with memory deficits,” said Sabrina Segal, one of the researchers.
She hypothesizes that this boost in memory can be credited to the release of norepinephrine during exercise, a chemical messenger to the brain that’s well-known to contribute to memory modulation. It’s a phenomenon, Segal said, that’s difficult to rival pharmaceutically.
“The current findings offer a natural and relatively safe alternative to pharmacological interventions for memory enhancement in healthy, older individuals as well as those who suffer from cognitive deficits,” she said. “With a growing population of the aged, the need for improvement of quality of life and prevention of mental decline is more important than ever before.”
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health came to a similar conclusion – that no drug can mimic the benefits of exercise and its relation to better memory.
“We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency – basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task,” said Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology. “No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise.”
So of course, as with so many other preventative measures, exercise is the linchpin that connects a positive today with a healthful future. Simply add memory enhancement to the long list of benefits most will realize through the adoption of an active lifestyle.