You knew that exercise was good. Exercise is good for your heart, for your health, for your stress levels and for your quality of life. But did you know it was also good for improving your memory? The current exercise guidelines are to exercise 30 mins for 5 days a week, or for 150mins over the course of a week. They even encourage to increase up to 300minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity to gain greater health benefits from exercising. This powerful exercise medicine can also improve your memory and protect you from cognitive decline as you get older. So the age old saying is true of your brain as well “use it or lose it”. Did you need any more incentives to get out and move?!

Exercise Grows Your Brain

According to researchers, one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. That means, by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. The good news is that exercise causes the brain to change and also grow stronger to protect memory and improve thinking. The hippocampus part of your brain is the part that shrinks in late adulthood, resulting in impaired memory and risk of dementia. Aerobic exercise (thinking walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing etc.), in contrast to anaerobic exercise has been found to increase the size of the hippocampus and the medial temporal lobes. A randomized controlled trial conducted in 2011, found that exercise training increased the size of the hippocampus by 2%, which they claim reversed age-related decline by 1-2 years. The hippocampus actually shrunk in those people who were in the control group. This means that people who exercise regularly have bigger brains and therefore are able to use their brains better.

Exercise Improves Memory

This is exciting because exercise is a fairly low-cost treatment for memory. The thinking is that exercise stimulates chemicals in the brain that effect the health of brain cells. Exercise pumps blood to the brain, which creates a good environment for new blood vessels to be formed and new brain cells to form and survive. Exercise also reduces insulin resistance and reduces inflammation which aids in the health of your brain. Indirectly, exercise helps to improve memory and brain function by improving quality of sleep, mood and reducing stress and anxiety, providing a clearer brain for thinking. Plus, the more you exercise, the better the results.

“Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.

Brain Boost: High Intensity Interval Training

A recent article published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience has found that even 20 minutes of high-intensity physical exercise can increase your memory performance by 10%. The study had 95 young adults participate in one of three groups: physical training plus cognitive (aka brain) training, physical training only, or no training at all. The physical training was a daily 20 minute interval training workout. The way the researches measured any effect was by asking all participants to complete a high-interference memory task. High-interference memory is your working memory, so new information is able to be added to old information stored in a seamless way without being interfered by the old information. They also measured levels of a brain growing protein called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and insulin-like growth factor-1. The take home result was that those participants who were in the physical training groups performed significantly better at the memory task and had higher levels of BDNF.

Brain Boost: Mental PLUS Physical Exercise

These findings are building on evidence already known that exercise is good for thinking. Doing your workout at the start of the day can get you concentrating better through those work meetings you have to sit through. Regularly working out will help you to respond quicker and with more clarity to the stressful job or home situations you might have to deal with. Doing some squats in between study sessions can help you recall and remember for that exam looming. Getting your kids running around before and during school can help them stay focused and learn better in class. Combining physical exercise with some kind of brain training can increase and protect your brain even further. Learning a new skill, mixing up your workout session, playing a sport, challenging your body over mindless aerobic exercise will get your brain working harder. Workouts that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy can boost your brain well into your old age.

So learn a sport, play against another person, join a dance exercise group, or mix up your workouts so that your brain is engaged to improve your memory. Here at AJ’s we have lots of options on offer to get your heart pumping and your brain working at the same time. Come in and have a chat to our friendly staff team to see what might work best for you.