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October 30, 2018

Even a 10-minute walk leads to a 'rapid enhancement' in memory, new study finds

Daily Briefing

    Light physical activity, such as a brisk walk around the block or a light afternoon jog, can boost short-term memory, according to a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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    For the study, researchers sought to build on previous research that has found exercise promotes the generation of new cells in the brain's memory regions to see if light exercise leads to a notable improvement in cognition. To do so, researchers performed memory testing on 36 healthy, college-aged adults after 10 minutes of exercise on a stationary bike and after no exercise. Participants underwent memory testing five minutes after the exercise task was complete.

    To test memory, researchers first showed participants images of objects and asked them to determine whether the object was typically used indoors or outdoors. The researchers then showed participants a second batch of images and asked them if the object in the picture was in the first round of images, similar to previous images, or a new picture.

    The researchers used high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the participants' brains during memory testing.

    A little exercise yields 'rapid enhance' in memory function

    The study found that after 10 minutes of light exercise, participants experienced a "rapid enhancement" in their memory function and information recall.

    The scans of 16 participants showed improved communication between the hippocampal dentate gyrus—a brain areas that contributes to the formation of new memories— and cortical areas linked to memory. As the connectivity between the two brain areas increased post-exercise, the participants' memory continued to improve, the researchers found.

    What this tells us about exercise and memory

    Study co-author Michael Yassa, a University of California Irvine professor and Chancellor's Fellow of Neurobiology & Behavior, said that while prior research has focused on how exercise promotes generation of new cells in the brain's memory regions, this study demonstrates a more immediate effect: communication between parts of the brain that focus on memory are strengthened immediately after exercise.

    Hideaki Soya, a co-author of the study and chair of the Advanced Research Initiative for Human High Performance at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, added, "We don't discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that's a process that takes a bit longer to unfold."

    Further, Soya said the study provides "striking evidence" that even "very light" exercise is beneficial for the brain and cognition, which he said is "good news for people who do not like to exercise."

    While the study demonstrated improved memory capacity for young adults, Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations with the Alzheimer's Association, said, "Less is known about the specific benefits or the biology of how physical activity works in our brains." She added, "An important next step is replicating the study in older adults to see if the same results are achieved" (Mozes, HealthDay/WebMD, 9/24; UC Irvine release, 9/24).

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