Does Exercise Improve Memory?

Cognitive decline can pose several challenges that can affect your quality of life, daily duties or responsibilities. As we age, certain areas of thinking show a normal decline, while others may remain stable. Long-term memory tends to remain preserved with aging, while learning new information may present more of a challenge. Although some memory decline is inevitable, physical activity can effectively help to improve memory.

Endless Benefits of Exercise

Proper nutrition, adequate rest and regular physical activity are a powerful trio for good health. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, regular exercise helps protect you from developing certain cancers and common chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes. Exercise also helps prevent weight gain while promoting weight loss. The benefits of exercise do not end there. Several studies have shown the positive impact that exercise has on keeping your mind sharp as you age.

Exercise and Brain Size

The part of the brain that is involved in the formation of new memories and learning is called the hippocampus, which begins to shrink in late adulthood. Published in the 2011 issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America," researchers had participants ages 55-80 walk for 30 minutes, three times a week, while others performed a stretching routine. At the end of seven weeks, the study found those who participated in walking had improved memory function due to the increase in volume of their hippocampus. On the other hand, the stretching group did not improve their memory.

Exercise and Brain Health

In combination with an improvement in memory, exercise also improves brain function and physical fitness. The 2013 open-access journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience showed the extraordinary benefit that exercise had on memory. For the study, sedentary adults ages 57 to 75 were separated into an exercise group and a wait-list. The participants exercised on a stationary bike or treadmill for an hour, three times a week. After the 12-week study, those who exercised improved their memory performance, brain health and physical fitness.

How Much Exercise?

A well-rounded exercise routine should include resistance training and cardio exercise, such as light walking or jogging. But how much exercise is necessary for memory improvement? According to the Mayo Clinic, short 30-minute exercise sessions have been proven to be beneficial. Depending on your fitness level, start with 10 to 20 minutes of brisk walking or weight lifting once or twice a week. From there, you can gradually increase the length and days of your workout. Always consult your doctor prior to beginning any exercise routine.

About the Author

Gavin Van De Walle specializes in nutrition and fitness and co-owns the sports nutrition supplement company, Supra Nutrition. Van De Walle earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and food science from South Dakota State University, and is a certified personal trainer.