Mild Physical Activity Improves Memory

Light workouts promote brain fitness.

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Dec 4, 2018

“Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition,” says Michael A. Yassa, PhD, professor at the University of California, Irvine, and director of the UCI Brain Initiative. This news helps to promote the message that even small amounts of light exercise (30% of VO2max) can have powerful benefits.

UCI and University of Tsukuba researchers in Japan designed a study to determine whether lower-intensity exercise would be sufficient to stimulate parts of the brain involved with memory and to shed further light on mechanisms related to how physical activity improves cognitive functioning.

Investigators used magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity in 36 healthy young adults before and after a single 10-minute bout of light exercise and observed that connectivity in the hippocampus and surrounding regions—parts of the brain related to memory formation and storage—was better after the exercise than it was before the bout.

“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 [this decline happens] much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Yassa. “Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.” More research is needed to determine how the hippocampus underwent rapid modification as a result of mild exercise.

This study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018; doi:10.1073/pnas.1805668115).

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Shirley Archer, JD, MA

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