Can Regular Exercise Improve Memory?

We all hear the benefits of regular exercise, especially this time of year when New Year’s resolutions are in full swing to lose weight, get healthy, start exercising and the like.

Well, there is one more benefit of regular exercise that you may wish to consider. Medical studies have shown that regular exercise may help to improve an individual’s memory.

Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute conducted studies on mice which resulted in the findings that running improves learning and memory. The researchers also found that exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells in mice. Because mice cannot be asked whether their memory has improved, the study involved observation of activity.

“The study compared the memory of a group of mice made to exercise on a running wheel with mice who were not exercised regularly. Memory was determined by the speed at which the mice located a hidden platform in a water maze, used previously as a refuge to avoid swimming.”

Mice that exercised on the running wheel regularly found the platform significantly faster and had more than twice the number of new brain cells in the brain tissue location which stores memory formation and learning. These regularly exercised mice also had newly formed brain cells responsible for memory storage.

The mice that did not exercise took significantly longer to find the platform and were generally slower in the recognition of the direction in which to go.

As a result of this study, researchers found that new brain cells that store memory can be regenerated through regular exercise in adult mammals. In other words, the benefits of regular exercise may help you remember someone’s name, where you left your keys or where you parked your car at the mall!

Exercise also helps our brain functions as we age. Studies have shown that physical and aerobic exercise training can lower the risk for developing some undesirable age-related changes in cognitive and brain functions and also help the brain maintain its ability to cover one function if another starts failing later in life. We are all aware that as we age, our brains age with us. Regular exercise not only helps our memory function, but there is also a significant relationship between physical activity, cognitive function, decreased occurrence of dementia and increased attention span.

There is now no doubt that regular exercise stimulates brain function. Regular exercise is basically defined by increasing the heart rate by 60 percent to 80 percent three to four days per week for at least 30-40 minutes.

Take your car to a park to walk. Parks are often flat and very peaceful.

Make sure that no matter how far you get from your starting point, you are able to get back there.

It matters more that you walk for a longer period of time. Faster and farther walks will come later. When you first start walking, decide how many minutes you will walk. Choose a length of time you know you can make. That time will increase from week to week. Do not fret if you can’t go longer than the day before. Set the goal and keep at it and you will reach it faster than you think.

The more you increase your exercise, the better your physical and mental functions will be. And you may start to notice that you are remembering phone numbers, people’s names, where you parked your car and that grocery list a little bit each day!

Carrie J. White has 25 years of experience in the health and fitness industry as a club owner, manager and personal fitness trainer. She is a consultant in fitness club liability and risk management and is associate professor of the business administration in the College of Business at West Liberty University.