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Short Bursts of Physical Activity Can Boost Your Memory
There’s no denying the fact that exercise, even in modest amounts, is beneficial to the body and brain. This is true for both healthy people and for those with mild cognitive impairment or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. And a new study shows that even short bursts of exercise can provide immediate and measurable benefits to one’s memory, whether you have memory problems or not.
The researchers had participants, aged 50 to 85 and with or without memory problems, look at a series of positive images like scenes of nature or animals. Half of the participants then got on an exercise bike for six minutes, exercising fairly rigorously, at 70% of their maximum capacity. Afterwards, in a pop quiz, all the participants were asked to recall the images they’d previously viewed.
The people who had exercised recalled the images significantly better than the people who had not exercised.
"We found that a single, short instance of moderately intense exercise particularly improved memory in individuals with memory deficits," study author, Sabrina Segal said in a press release. "Because of its implications and the need to better understand the mechanism by which exercise may enhance memory, we're following up this study with an investigation of potential underlying biological factors." The team believes that the brain chemical norepinephrine may be at least partially responsible for the connection, since its levels are known to be elevated in people just after exercise, and it’s been shown to play a role in memory formation. There may be other mechanisms at work, and the team expects to look at these in their next studies.
It seems like researchers are realizing, more and more, that relatively small amounts of exercise can have surprisingly large benefits. Recent evidence, for example, has shown that picking up exercise relatively late in life can be as effective for your health as if you had exercised all along. Even household chores can benefit the brain. This doesn’t mean that you should shun exercise till your middle age or only do six minutes a day if you can do more. But it does point to the fact that activity has a profound effect on the brain.
"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," Segal added.
The study was carried out by a team at the University of California at Irvine and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
December 10, 2012