We know that the brain can grow and get bigger and more powerful by using it a lot. It’s called neuroplasticity. The demand brings on more brain cells.
But did you know exercising your arms and legs and the rest of your body can also result in increased brain performance?
One crucial area of the brain involved in memory, the hippocampus, shrinks as we age. You don’t want that. But research has shown that this region had grown a year after older adults began to exercise. That growth was accompanied by improved memory.
Now, in a new study, middle-aged men and women who cycled or did a stretching and coordination routine for two hours weekly for six months had significant improvements in memory and other thinking skills.
The study is published in Health Psychology, March 2012.
Researcher Kirsten Hotting, PhD, lecturer in psychology, University of Hamburg, Germany wanted to focus on middle-aged adults. She evaluated 68 inactive men and women ages 40 to 56. She assigned them to one hour twice a week of a stretching program or 45 minutes cycling, keeping within a safe heart rate, finishing with a cooling off period.
Hotting added a group of 18 non-active people as a comparison group.
Before and after the study, Hotting’s team measured memory and other thinking skills in all three groups.
The cycling group improved their heart fitness by 15%. The stretching and inactive groups did not have noticeable changes in their physical fitness status. But not surprisingly both the cycling and the stretching groups did better on the memory test of learning a list of items than the inactive group.
The cycling group improved most on long-term memory testing. But the stretching group actually improved more in a test of attention than did the cycling group.
Scott Small, MD, the Herbert Irving professor of neurology at Columbia University had previously found that inactive people who become physically active can increase blood flow to the brain. They then score better on memory tests.
This is good news for all of us who want to preserve our faculties as long as possible. Stay active, think, talk, learn and discipline yourself to do simple fitness routines.
I like to walk to a local artesan coffee bar. It’s about a 3-mile walk and there is a reward at the end of it! (a delicious espresso, zero calories).