Exercise Increases Memory in the Elderly

While staying mentally active through mental stimulation (i.e. crossword puzzles, social interaction) is important to maintaining memory, physical stimulation through exercise is equally important to enhancing brain power. Physical activity helps to protect the brain from certain strains of aging according to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Those elderly individuals who engage in physical activity are better able to protect their brain from aging, and exercise has even been shown
to reverse some indications of aging.

According to recommendations from The Department of Health and Human Services, the elderly should participate in 150 minutes of moderate exercises a week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercises a week. Partaking in physical activity gets your blood pumping everywhere in your body including your brain, which may aid in keeping your mind sharp.

The study by the PNAS showed that just one year of moderate physical exercise reversed shrinkage of the brain’s hippocampus and improved spatial memory. The hippocampus plays a vital role in long term and other types of memory, but as we progress into late adulthood the hippocampus begins to shrink – leading to memory loss and the increased risk of dementia.

Adults who remain active tend to have larger medial temporal lobes, according to the PNAS study. In the study 120 sedentary elderly adults were broken up into two groups: one group walked around a track for 40 minutes a day three days a week, and the other group stretched and did toning exercises. The researchers found that the group who participated in aerobic exercises increased the size of their hippocampus, leading to improved memory in the participants.

All the participants in the study had MRI brain scans done before the study began and then had another MRI a year later at the conclusion of the study. The individuals who participated in the walking group saw an increase in volume of their hippocampus by 2 percent – which is the equivalent of turning back the clock two years, according to the study. The individuals in the toning and stretching group lost about 1.5 percent of their hippocampal volume.

This study shows that regular aerobic exercise does in fact play a significant role in memory. Motivating your loved one to stay active not only makes their body less susceptible to falls and injuries, but also serves as an anti-aging device for their brain.

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