By John Salak –
It’s pretty hard to find anyone arguing against the benefits of sensible exercise. Heavy, moderate or even light workouts reduces the risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and various forms of cancer, while keeping bones and joints healthy, improving a person’s mood and helping to maintain a healthy weight. Oh yes, almost forgot, regular exercise help maintain and improve memory function as well.
Separate studies out of Switzerland and the United States, in fact, report that exercise stimulates and supports memory function in people of all ages. University of Geneva reports that even just 15 minutes of intensive work on a bicycle improves memory and builds new motor skills. The process involves engaging endocannabinoids, molecules known to increase synaptic plasticity, which helps fight neurodegeneration associated with memory loss or impairment.
Kinga Igloi, lecturer at the university who led the work, explained that exercise results in the production of endocannabinoids, small molecules, which trigger feelings of euphoria. These molecules, however, also bind to receptors in the hippocampus, the main brain structure for memory processing, she adds.
To assess the impact on memory, scientists recruited 15 healthy, young men, who were not athletes, and had them take memory tests after 30 minutes of moderate cycling, after 15 minutes of intensive cycling, and after a period of rest. Simply put, “after an intensive sports session, the performance was much better,” reported Bianca Marin Bosch, another researcher on the project.
Previous studies by university personnel had already identified a correlation between exercise and memory function, although the results have not been consistent in determining what level of exercise intensity yields the greatest improvements. Regardless, the Geneva researchers believe their results show exercise can provide a foundation to fight neurodegeneration in general and Alzheimer’s Disease in particular. It can also operate as a tool to support education overall.
“Sports activity can be an easy to implement, minimally invasive and inexpensive intervention. Would it be useful, for example, to plan a moment of sport at the end of a school morning to consolidate school learning,” Igloi added.
A similar study out of the University of Maryland underscored the memory benefits that exercise can have for older adults as well. As with their Swiss counterparts, Maryland researchers reported that one exercise session for an older, healthy adult increased activation of brain circuits associated with memory, including the hippocampus. This is critically important because the hippocampus shrinks with age and is the region of the brain first attacked by Alzheimer’s disease.
“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,” said Dr. J. Carson Smith, an associate professor of kinesiology in the university and the study’s lead author.
Smith’s team worked with healthy participants between 55 and 85 years old, conducting memory tests after moderate exercise or a day of rest. The results found that participants’ brain activation was significantly greater in four brain cortical regions (including the middle frontal gyrus, inferior temporal gryus, middle temporal gyrus, and fusiform gyrus) after exercise compared to after rest.
“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,” Smith explained.
Chalk up another win for exercise.