Posted on Oct 26, 2018, 7 p.m.
How certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with each other to improve memory function can be altered immediately with a simple mild 10 minute walk, as published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Exercise is long known to be beneficial and to be able to change both body and mind, evidence of this is extensive and continues to grow. This study suggests that exercise need not to be prolonged or intense to provide benefits to the brains with effects beginning more quickly than what was once thought.
Animal studies have shown that when they run on treadmills they develop more new brain cells, many of which are clustered in the hippocampus, and active animals perform better in tests for learning and memory. Equivalent experiments and testing to examine human brain tissue are not possible, however studies have shown that exercising regularly tends to promote larger and healthier hippocampus than those who don’t, especially as they grow older.
Just one bout of exercise is suggested to help with focus and learning ability over being sedentary, but these studies involve moderate to vigorous exercise; whether single brief spurts of light exercise producing desirable changes in the brain has remained unclear.
36 healthy young students were recruited for this study who rode quietly on stationary bikes for 10 minutes; or in separate visits pedaled at a pace so gentle it barely raised heart rates. Exercises were performed at around 30% of each subject’s maximum heart rate. Brisk walking should raise heart rates to around 50%. After each session subjects completed computerized memory testing identifying images to pair with that from other images that closely resembled one an other. Then each subject repeated this sequence inside an MRI machine to scan their brains while they were responding to the images.
Researchers compared results, effects of the mild exercise were clear: subjects were better at remembering images after riding the bikes, especially images that most closely resembled each other; meaning the harder memories had to strain the better they performed after exercise.
Brains were observed to work differently after they had exercised, MRI scans showed portions of hippocampus lit up in synchronized fashion with parts of the brain associated with learning indicating these separate parts of the brain were connected better after exercising. The greater the coordination between disparate parts of the brain the better subjects were observed to perform in testing.
According to the researchers findings show that even light exercise can change people’s brains and minds immediately, with exertion levels required being so light it can allow almost anyone to complete the exercise and have benefits. However at a molecular level the effects of gentle exercise affecting brain operation is still unknown. Researchers suspect changes in blood flow and hormone levels are probably involved, and hope to explore this in future studies with the impacts in younger and older people.
The message from this study is positive, as it would appear as if people can help to improve memories with short walks, or even yoga and tai chi.
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