How Exercise Improves Your Memory & Cognition

We all know that exercising can be great for your physical health, but did you know exercise can tremendously benefit your brain? I recently read an article about a study completed by University of Iowa that found that a single session of exercise can benefit older people’s brains. To summarize it, researchers found that the participants, aged 60 to 80, who exercised once or many times, showed improved cognitive functions and working memory.



The Experiment

The research team enrolled 34 adults between the ages of 60 and 80 years who were healthy but not regularly active. On two separate occasions, each participant rode a stationary bike. One with light resistance and the second with more strenuous resistance. Both exercise sessions lasted for 20 minutes. Before and after each exercise session, each participant underwent a brain scan and completed a memory test.

During the brain scan, the researchers studied activity in regions known to be involved in the collection and sharing of memories. These memory tests consisted of each participant using a computer screen to look at a set of 8 faces that rotated every 3 seconds. The participant had to decide when a face seen two faces previously matched the face they were currently viewing.


The Results

After one exercise session, the researchers found that some individuals experienced increased connectivity between the medial temporal lobe (the part that surrounds the brain’s memory center) and the parietal cortex and prefrontal cortex (regions involving cognition and memory). Those same individuals also performed better on the memory tests. While on the other hand, individuals showed little to no gain in memory.

Researchers explained that the memory and cognition benefits occur a lot more quickly than people think. This essentially means that it’s important to keep up the exercise so that you can keep it up those benefits to the brain. In other words, the benefits are temporary, but with consistent exercise you can make them last. The study also found that the light to moderate resistance vs. the strenuous resistance had no difference on the brain’s benefits.


What This Means for You

It means that everyday exercise can be more than just physically beneficial. Next time you have a big presentation, try practicing yoga beforehand. Have a phone meeting coming up? Try walking meetings. You may not only find your team more productive, but much happier too.

Need help staying consistent? Let me guide you. Check out my personal trainer offerings here. Need guidance in the workplace? Check out my corporate wellness programs here.


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