Exercise for the Brain: How Your Workout Can Improve Memory

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It goes without saying that exercise – any exercise – is beneficial for all of us and can increase our physical well-beings. But recent studies indicate that certain types of workouts and exercise can improve seniors’ mental well-beings, specifically, their memories.

This is great news for seniors at risk for mild cognitive impairment, a condition New York Times blogger Gretchen Reynolds, says “makes a person’s memory and thinking more muddled than would be expected at a given age.” Mild cognitive impairment can also lead more readily to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise, as it turns out, can help, even for seniors already exhibiting memory problems. Scientists at the University of British Columbia recruited a number of women aged 70-80 (who had some degree of cognitive decline) for a six-month long experiment to study the effect of exercise on memory.

Brian Carrigan
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During the period of supervised exercise, some women lifted weights, some took brisk walks and others eschewed endurance exercise in favor of stretching and toning. The women were tested before beginning their exercise routines in order to discern their memory abilities and were tested again at the conclusion of the six-month period.

The study found that women who did stretching and toning fared worse on the memory tests than they had before they began the study. The women in both the walking and weight-lifting groups performed better on nearly every cognitive test than they had six months earlier. And of special note, the women in the walking group exhibited greater gains than any group in verbal memory, or the ability to remember words.

The bottom-line, according to Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s Brain Research Center, is that “for the most robust brain health, it’s probably advisable to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training.” Specific types of exercise do improve specific types of cognitive skills.

But don’t panic if putting together a routine of more than one type of exercise sounds complicated – or exhausting. The benefits of any exercise on overall cognitive ability are considerable and worth starting. So talk with your doctor about all the benefits of regular exercise. Your body – and your mind – will thank you.

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