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The Surprising Link Between Memory and Light Exercise

By Kate Gardner

Why do you work out? Maybe you want to get ripped and show off a lot of muscle. Maybe you're looking to drop some weight and ease the nagging pain in your knees. Maybe you're training for that half marathon you've always dreamed of running. Or maybe you want to improve your memory! 

We've known for a while that cardiovascular exercise is connected to better memory and brain function. Brain imaging studies show people who engage in regular cardio exercise have a larger hippocampus -- a part of the brain that plays a big role in memory. Other studies have shown exercise to lower a person's risk of Alzheimer's, slow brain aging, and enhance mood by releasing feel-good endorphins. Current recommendations call for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, but new research suggests memory can improve with even less! 

Light Exercise and Memory

Research carried out at the University of California and presented at the National Academy of Sciences shows a link between light exercise and better connections between the parts of the brain responsible for forming and storing memories. In the study, researchers had 36 participants do 10 minutes of mild exercise. Afterward, MRI was used to look at their brain. Researchers could see the immediate effects of the exercise. Participants' brains showed better connections between the hippocampus and other parts of the brain used in the processing of memories. 

The study's authors commented that this finding supports the idea that there is a benefit to short bursts of exercise throughout the day. They are looking to expand on their findings by doing similar testing in older adults, as well as looking at the effects of long-term exercise. 

The Takeaway 

It's important to note this study looked at a small number of people who were all healthy young adults. We may not see the same results in other groups of people, like older adults. And of course, there are other reasons to exercise, like for heart health. Just because memory may improve with short bouts of exercise doesn't mean you can expect to skimp on cardio and still get all the benefits that come with working out. However, this does add to the evidence that even small amounts of exercise can be helpful and add up. 

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Tampa, Fla.

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