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Do Older People Improve Their Memories with Exercise?

Some older volunteers were able to improve their memories with a single exercise session. To make the benefits last, they needed to keep exercising.
Do Older People Improve Their Memories with Exercise?
Full length of senior man exercising on stationary bike in health club

Want to keep your brain working well as you grow older? Scientists say that exercise can help older people improve their memories (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Aug. 2, 2019).

Exercise to Help People Improve Their Memories:

Adults between 60 and 80 years old pedaled a stationary bicycle at a brisk rate for 20 minutes. Each of the 34 volunteers completed cognitive tests before and after the exercise sessions. The researchers also scanned the volunteers’ brains. They were looking for evidence of any changes these brief bouts of exercise might trigger.

In some individuals, the scans demonstrated greater connections between certain parts of the brain after exercise. These people also got better scores on their memory tests. In particular, people working out at moderate intensity were able to improve their memories. Unfortunately, others did not appear to benefit noticeably.

Consistent Training Also Boosted Brain Power for Some People:

A follow-up on the study looked at how well people fared on cognitive tests after 12 weeks of consistent training. Those who did well after a single exercise session also seen to improve their memories and their brain connections following months of exercise.

The investigators point out that the benefits from exercise show up quickly, but they also fade unless a person continues to exercise. Next, they will try to figure out why some people didn’t seem to get much brain boost from physical activity.

Learn More:

If you want to harness the power of exercise to improve your cognitive function, you may want to try these ideas for getting motivated and following through. You may also want to listen to our interview with Dr. Wendy Suzuki on how to make your brain healthy through exercise. It is Show 1040. We spoke with Dr. Jordan Metzl on how to find time to exercise in Show 1106. Also of interest, potentially, is Show 1090: How Intense Exercise Benefits Parkinson’s Patients.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Voss MW et al, "Acute exercise effects predict training change in cognition and connectivity." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Aug. 2, 2019. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002115
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