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What 10 Minutes of Exercise Can Do for Your Memory

By | October 9th, 2018
  • Ten-minute exercises increased connections in the hippocampus
  • The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s
  • Next, researchers will study the effect of long-term light exercise in older people

Does your mind feel slower than usual lately, or are you having trouble remembering meeting times or finding your keys? Science has a new solution to lift your brain fog: just 10 minutes of exercise.

A new study from researchers at University of California, Irvine and University of Tsukaba in Japan showed that 10 minutes of light exercise—think yoga or a brisk walk—increased communication between the parts of the brain in charge of memory storage and function.

Scientists studied 36 people with healthy cognition in their early 20s after 10 minutes of light exercise—defined by 30 percent of their peak oxygen intake, or VO2 max, a number that measures how well the body delivers oxygen to cells. They then assessed their brains with an MRI scan. When they compared the activity recorded after exercise to brain activity with no exercise, they saw that there was an improvement in the connections between the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, and parts of the brain that process the details of memories.

“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 much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” said project co-leader Michael Yassa. “Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”

Yassa and his colleagues also tested the participants with a memory test that involved recalling pictures they had been previously shown. The researchers concluded that those who exercised beforehand were better at the memory test.

Other studies have shown that exercise can help promote the growth of new brain cells. But what this study pointed out is that exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous or lengthy to be beneficial; getting your blood flowing just a little was enough to see changes in the brain.

“We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold,” said Yassa. “What we observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterward.”

Yassa points out that devices like step monitors can give people that little reminder that they should stand up or move around.

“It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits—by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example,” he said. “Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

Next, researchers at U.C.I. and the University of Tsukuba will expand the study to older adults who are at greater risk of cognitive impairment and may react differently to such a short period of exercise. They plan to see how adding a ten-minute exercise break to a person’s routine might change their brains over many months.

“Clearly, there is tremendous value to understanding the exercise prescription that best works in the elderly so that we can make recommendations for staving off cognitive decline,” he said.

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