Exercise and Memory

Kristin Osika

While you may be used to hearing “I exercise to lose weight” or “I exercise to reducestress, lower my resting heart rate, improve my mood…etc.”, how often do you hear “I exerciseto increase my hippocampal growth and memory capabilities”? While this sentence is quiteclunky, it rings true, considering studies have found that people who perform aerobic exercisesregularly, have an increased capacity for many types of memory.

How does exercise impact memory?

Exercise benefits many everyday bodily processes. It can help with both heart rate and overall fitness. Another benefit to exercising is its impact on the chemicals of the brain. These chemicals, affect the health of blood cells, blood vessels, and they aid in the preservation of any new brain cells created. Exercise is also linked to an increase in the capacity of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory. When exercise occurs it is shown to yield positive benefits in the brain and improve memory.

Tests Performed

Many experiments have been conducted regarding the impact of exercise on cognitive function. A couple notable ones have been included below.

● The Salk Institute rats:

○ In the 1990s the Salk Institute conducted an experiment to measure memory improvement in rats. One group of rats did weight resistance training, while the others perform regular aerobic exercise. The findings concluded that while the rats who did weight resistance exercises didn’t have a notable differences in their memory, the rats who performed aerobic exercise did noticeably better on their memory tests after the same period of time.

● Human Subjects:

○ Many other experiments with humans as test subjects have been performed. Generally they follow the same sort of idea as the rat experiment shown above, where one group of people do toning and weight lifting while others run or bike for a set number of months after a baseline memory test. The test are more applicable to our lives and therefore further reinforced the ideas seen above in the studies on rats. When tested for verbal and spatial memory the second time (after exercising), the individuals who lifted weights did about the same or sometimes even worse on their memory tests. However, it was almost always found that those who performed the aerobic exercises improved upon their baseline memory scores.

How does this information help us?

While many people aren’t experiencing memory difficulties yet, as people age, these problems become more apparent in their lives. Dementia is classified as mild cognitive impairment, but it is often found that people suffering from this condition, begin to develop Alzheimer’s as well. These individuals tend to be later on in their lives when these conditions begin to affect them, but with exercise, many experiments have shown that they may be able to slow down the declining rate of their memory. Hippocampal growth, associated with increased memory capacity is found to occur with exercise. A certain amount of this growth has been correlated with the memory capacity of an individual as much as two years younger. By exercising at younger ages however, perhaps we can set the stage for minimal memory loss as we continue to age.

Annie Leithead ‘19










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