Exercise has long been lauded for posing various benefits to our health and general well-being. Now, new evidence points to the relationship between exercise and brain function: a single, moderate workout may immediately have an impact on brain function and can improve memory.
A study on the relationship between exercise, memory and ageing was carried out by scientists at the University of Maryland. It was published in The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society in April. The study looked at the relationship between exercise and semantic memory brain activity, which refers to memories of language, words and names.
For the study, 26 healthy men and women between the ages of 55 and 85 who had no serious memory problems were recruited. They were asked to visit the lab on two separate days. On the first day the participants engaged in 30 minutes of moderate intensity cycling on a stationary bicycle before performing a semantic memory test and on the second day they sat in a waiting room for 30 minutes before performing the same test.
The semantic memory tests involved identifying names of people, both famous and everyday. The action of remembering famous names is related to semantic memory that deteriorates over time.
The researchers found that after a single session of moderate exercise, brain activation and semantic memory were increased. The brain activation took place in parts of the brain associated with memory, including the hippocampus, the region of the brain that shrinks with age and is usually first attacked by Alzheimer’s disease.
Carston Smith, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, was the lead author of the study. In a statement released by the university, he said: “While it has been shown that regular exercise can increase the volume of the hippocampus, our study provides new information that acute exercise has the ability to impact this important brain region.”
The study adds to a growing body of research that suggests regular exercise can increase brain function and lead to long-term improvement in memory.
Until recently, scientists thought that the human brain becomes fixed in its structure and function by adulthood. New studies conducted on the relationship between exercise and the brain is proving that adult brains can rewire and reshape depending on lifestyle choices.
The researchers surmised that the spike in brain activity after the 30-minute exercise session carried out by the participants is similar to the effect a training session will have on your body’s muscles. Essentially, exercising works on making our brain’s memory centres more fit.
“Just like a muscle adapts to repeated use, single sessions of exercise may flex cognitive neural networks in ways that promote adaptations over time and lend to increased network integrity and function and allow more efficient access to memories,” says Smith.