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Memory Trouble? Just 10 Minutes of Light Exercise Instantly Boosts Memory


Exercise is so enormously beneficial for mental function that even a short, light workout will immediately increase connectivity between brain regions responsible for memory.

New research has found that people who engage in 10 minutes daily of yoga, Tai Chi or even simply walking are more likely to remember where they put their keys than those that don’t.

The Exercise Science

Scientists from Japan’s University of Tsukuba and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) studied 36 healthy young adults after the participants had a 10-minute session of light exercise. The research team used high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, in order to examine their brains.

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Results showed improved connectivity between the cortical areas involved in memory processing and the hippocampal dentate gyrus, a brain structure that plays a critical role in memory. The degree of increased connectivity was a predictor of the level of improvement in recall tests. Moreover, the individuals reported that they felt better emotionally after the exercise.

“The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories; it’s one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older — and much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” said project co-leader Michael Yassa of UCI. “Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”

“We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold,” he said. “What we observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterward.”

The impact of a short workout session is remarkable, said Yassa. “It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits — by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example,” he said. “Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

Next Project Is to Test Light Exercise on the Elderly

Yassa and his colleagues are hoping to build on the findings by testing the effects of brief, light workout sessions on older adults at risk of age-related mental decline. They want to determine if this type of exercise done regularly for weeks or months can improve brain structure and function in the elderly.

“Clearly, there is tremendous value to understanding the exercise prescription that best works in the elderly so that we can make recommendations for staving off cognitive decline,” he said.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What Is the Takeaway?

So what can we learn from the study that is new? Numerous earlier studies show exercise actually increases the number of cells in brain regions critical for memory; however, this effect takes time. The recent investigation reveals that aside from long-term benefits, physical activity produces a cognitive advantage that can be experienced instantly. In addition, while exercise sessions of 30 minutes or more are valuable, even short, light workouts produces significant positives.

As immediate gratification is a great motivator, the knowledge that a 10-minute walk can quickly result in a mental boost provides another incentive to exercise. Very few people, including senior adults with mobility limitations, are unable to walk or engage in a simple exercise routine. Therefore, nearly everyone can experience the amazing benefits, which no pill will ever reproduce.



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