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Study: Older adults improve memory through exercise
January 31st, 2011
03:33 PM ET

Study: Older adults improve memory through exercise

Need more motivation to make exercise a priority? Aside from the well-known physical benefits, a moderate amount of exercise can increase the size of the brain's hippocampus and reverse memory loss in older adults, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"What's really amazing is that exercise seems to be incredibly powerful and it's not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of exercising our brains. We think of crossword puzzles, sudoku or reading a newspaper. We don't think of going for a walk," said lead author Kirk Erickson, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.The hippocampus is important for learning and for the storage of memories, according to the National Institute on Aging. The size typically decreases with age.

"What the hippocampus does is help to bind together things we might be trying to remember. [Like] meeting somebody- remembering their face, remembering their name, remembering their profession, where you met them, what you talked about," said senior author Art Kramer from the University of Illinois.

The study also included researchers from Rice University and Ohio State University. Together, they looked at 120 adults ages 55-80, all without dementia and all sedentary. The researchers assigned them to two groups: An aerobic exercise group and a stretching group. The aerobic exercisers walked for 40 minutes three days per week for one year. The stretching group used dumbbells, resistance bands and yoga exercises.

At the start of the study, after 6 months and after the year, the researchers used MRI images to see the volume of the brain's hippocampus and a computer task to test their memory.

The aerobic group showed an increase in hippocampal volume by about 2 percent, while the stretching-only group had a decline of more than one percent. The researchers also saw an increase in a molecule called BDNF, which affects learning and memory. Those people in the aerobic exercise group improved their memory performance from the beginning of the study.

"Based on what we found here, it's never too late to start being active," Erickson added. "The brain remains modifiable well into late adulthood, and just moderate amounts of exercise takes advantage of this ability."  Kramer said it's as if the participants in the study "rolled back the clock" two years.

Spatial memory was the type of memory studied. Erickson said examples include remembering where you set your keys or a book. Also, not getting lost while driving utilizes this memory.

He said the study could have implications for Alzheimer's disease, which, according to the  Alzheimer's Association, affects 5.3 million Americans.

"The deterioration of the hippocampus is one of the things that precedes and lead to Alzheimer's. So the fact that we have reversed this decline, reversed this atrophy, suggests that exercise might be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's by increasing the size of the structure. It also might be an important prevention. If we can increase the size of the structure, we may prevent or delay the development of the disease," he said.


soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. cora

    Hey..nice health expert[lol] Kat??? Cnn are you serious..where is the news..this has become more like entertainment tonight!!How can anyone even take an overweight tatooed girl for a health/eating expert???

    January 31, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kjpec77

    I think that this article just goes to show how important it is for people to stay active through their entire life. It is impossible to open up a newspaper or magazine without seeing something about the benefits of exercise and living an active life-style, yet for some reason many people still don't get the message. Physical education is a great avenue in which young children can learn the importance of working out as well as, activities to keep them healthy and active throughout their life time. It is my goal as a future physical educator to help my students realize the countless benefits of being active before it is too late, and they have become sedentary adults.

    January 31, 2011 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Velko

    In hospitals of Eastern Europe, where there has been no repair for 10 years, no heat. Everything is paid. In northern Bulgaria to give bribes to watching a nurse. Most Gypsies are worse, some of them die because doctors do not care for them. See it in 7plus7. net

    January 31, 2011 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jean Luc

    This is great, I will surely blog about this.
    http://www.freeformfitness.ca/blog

    January 31, 2011 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jvknoec

    This article proves how important life long physical activity is not only for health benefits but mental benefits as well. This article shows that life long physical activity has more benefits than just a persons health; just as a student in a physical education class, children also show higher scores on standardized tests when they have daily physical activity. Physical education is a great way for children to learn the numerous benefits that life long physical activity can provide to you; as a future teacher in physical education I hope to educate my students on the benefits of life long activity so that they can participate in life long activities and experience not only the health benefits but mental benefits as well.

    January 31, 2011 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Burdi36

    I think that this article is a great beneficial article. it definitely shows how important staying active is. More and more people are becoming sedentary adults and even sedentary children with the different technologies coming out. The more people are inactive, the more they will be at risk of disease. Physical activity is a great way to stay healthy and become more intelligent. As a future teacher in the physical education profession I will make sure to teach my students the benefits and importance of physical activity not only in school, but throught their lifetime as well. I will do my best to help them appreciate physical activity and learn to take a step in the right direction when it comes to being a physically active student which will hopefully lead them to be physically active adults.

    January 31, 2011 at 21:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. PatMat89

    What is beautiful about this article is when Erickson states "it's never too late to start being active". Many people lead sedentary lifestyles and because they do, the increase their risk for illnesses. Physical activity is something that helps prevent illness. Throughout our childhood, we have many opportunities to play and have fun. Some schools offer physical education programs and after school programs to give children the opportunity to be active. These days, many students go straight from school to their homes, where they play video games and spend time watching TV. Picture a child going a whole day, week, or month without physical activity. Unfortunately, that is the reality in many families. Studies show physical activity has many benefits to help lead a healthy lifestyle. This articles shows us that even at an older age, physical activity is still beneficial. All people should be active throughout their whole lives because it will benefit them in many ways. As a future Physical Educator i understand the importance of activity. My goal is to teach students the benefits of physical activity and eventually have them understand that lifelong physical activity is important. Many schools and states are cutting physical activity. Without it, as a nation, we become unhealthy and develop many diseases, some that are life threatening. A great way to live a healthy lifestyle, is become more active, no matter your age.

    January 31, 2011 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dr Bill Toth

    Life is motion, motion is life. When you stop moving somebody puts dirt over you. Live With Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    January 31, 2011 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. jonnyposter

    To me it is obvious and that doesn't mean I'm right but based on my imprressions, it may be the same reason obese women (and maybe men too) shy away from gyms and full length mirrors. They are embarrassed of how they look naked or in light clothing. They do everything they can with clothes to hides the folds but - take away the clothes and it is plain to see. They are embarrased by themselves. And just how painful is it not to go? It might be a combination of both.

    February 1, 2011 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jonnyposter

    Sorry – I posted in the worng place out of context. I meant to post on the Obese women not taking mammograms article. But here is cheers to staying active – my father would have lived way past 86 if he had been more active. My mother is 89 tomorrow and takes no mediucations – lives in the city so walks everywhere from 1 to 3 miles a day – eats well – drinks a little more sherry thatn she realizes. She does not have Alzheimers but has some marked short term memory loss which she is aware of and tries to cope with partly with lists and memos in her datebook but also with a sense of humor and sometimes an expression of frustration and she apologizes a lot as well becasue she knows it is frustrating to others to answer the same questions over and over. But she knows who everybody is – her routines etc.... it is nothing like what I hear about Alzheimers patients. I plan to stay active and live into 90s or 100s if something else doesn't ge in the way.

    February 1, 2011 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. athiele

    Once more this article shows that physical activity should play an important role in everybody's life. In the US most people live a sedentary lifestyle and it is important to move these people into exercising regularly. As the article shows the mental advantage begin with "moderate amounts of exercise" and that is a goal everybody should try to achieve. Moreover, the article points out that there are not only physical benefits but also mental benefits of living an active lifestyle. As a future physical education teacher this shows how important the subject PE is in schools. As research has shown, Physical Activity improves standardized test scores in maths or reading. You can prevent a lot of diseases by being active and if you as a parent are a good role model you should show your children how important Physical Activity is because family habits influence your children the most. A great way to live a healthy lifestyle is to start early and continue throughout your life but even if you start late it is better than staying sedentary.

    February 1, 2011 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ashley

    You are right on with this article! Working out can help in so many ways, and it doesn't take the body builder to notice the benefits. Just adding activity to your everyday lifestyle can help so much. I lived a sedentary lifestyle for far to long, I'm no athlete now, but becoming active has most definitely changed my life for the better.

    I workout from home, sticking to my routine from http://www.selftrainermat.com , and that is all I need. I hope everyone can find some sort of motivation to become active, because as a nation we need it!

    February 1, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. judy

    this is good advice to our older citzen

    February 1, 2011 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. hervy

    This is good to see in print.

    Sad that even though stdy after study after study which shows the benefits of eating nutritously and getting exercise it takes studies pointing to specific benits for so many to pay attention.

    Eating better and getting exercise somply makes sense for reasons that will be proven over and over again in others studies to come.

    All the benefits wil never be fully appreciated.

    So my friends please encourage your child to take on these habits from jump so that it is automatic.

    Thankyou so much.
    Hervy
    From lifeasatrucker.com

    "Trying to keep truckers healthy"

    February 21, 2011 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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  16. Andrew

    Welcome to memorise.org. Improving people’s ability to remember and recall information is our goal. We have tips on how to improve your memory and tools to help you practise putting it to use! Please leave questions/comments.

    March 5, 2012 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Andrew

    Forgot something? Try adding these 10 foods to your diet — all have been shown to help better your memory.
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    March 5, 2012 at 21:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.