A lot of studies in present times are dedicated to how exercise is beneficial for both mental and physical health. Exercise is said to aid people with depression and maintain brain health. A recent study showed that there are many positive effects of physical activity on memory, especially.
Researchers ask, though, how much is the memory influenced by exercise? How long do these positive effects last? Which activity is best for your memory? They are interested in finding whether exercise is beneficial for memory and if it can prevent cognitive decline, memory loss, and other symptoms related to old age.
Research was conducted by the University of Iowa to try and answer these questions. Their findings are published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. These will help us better understand which exercises are best for keeping our memories sharp.
Exercise is beneficial for memory
First, the investigators tried to determine the effect of a single exercise on the working (short-term) memory of elderly individuals. The study had 34 participants between the ages of 60 and 80. These individuals did not exercise regularly. They were asked to use stationary bicycles to exercise for two sessions. The first session was light and not very taxing; the second was more demanding. Both were for 20 minutes.
The participants underwent MRI scans before and after both sessions to show brain activity in regions related to memory in the brain, such as the medial temporal lobe, the parietal cortex, and prefrontal cortex). Memory tests were also conducted.
The results of all the tests were not consistent. Some participants had high brain activity and connectivity after the tests; some did not.
Investigators noticed that the people brain activity increase in some participants only lasted for a short while. However, these results showed how exercise could have a significant impact on memory.
Dr. Michelle Voss, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Iowa, said that despite effects being temporary people should keep up with these exercises.
Why the exercise effects some differently and lasts for different periods opens up avenues for exciting research in the future.
The effects of a 12-week exercise
Next, researchers conducted a 12-week exercise program, three sessions a week, each session lasting 50 minutes. The sessions included using the stationary bike.
Participants underwent MRI scans for this exercise also, before and after the 12 weeks. Participants were put into two groups; one was told to exercise moderate intensity, the other slowly with minimal effort.
When this research period ended, results showed that both groups had similar results. Brain connectivity in the regions linked to memory had significantly improved. Participants scored better on their working memory tests as well.
However, interestingly the results showed around the same increase in brain activity as was the case after a single exercise.
It can be deduced that a single bout of exercise has the same effect as continuous. Hence, it should be looked at as a day to day activity. Elderly individuals can look at this in the short term instead of treating it as a long term commitment. This also has exciting implications for future research in this area.