Why Does Physical Exercise Improve Memory?

Exercise leads to increases in executive functioning, our ability to concentrate, plan, and effectively use mental resources (Winningham, 2010). For those experiencing the brain fog that often comes with age, exercise can change the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills. In short better Cognitive function is in seniors can be achieved with regular exercise. Studies have shown that a balanced exercise routine can decrease one’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias by 50 percent.

In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the hippocampus’s size, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance, and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results (Godman, 2014).

Aerobic exercise increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. As blood flow increases, our brains receive more oxygen and nutrients. Exercise also induces the release of beneficial proteins in the brain. These nourishing proteins keep brain cells (also known as neurons) healthy and foster new brain cell growth. Neurons are the functional building blocks of the brain. Individual neuron health is vital to overall brain health.

When you exercise, your body releases dopamine and endorphins, which are the chemicals that make us feel happy. Simultaneously, exercise helps your brain get rid of chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious. People who exercise tend to be happier and less stressed than those who don’t exercise. Although exercise can not replace the good feelings we get from socialization, I believe it can help us cope with the sadness resulting from the imposed isolation that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused over the past year.

The best way to approach a physical activity plan is to focus on a balanced exercise, aerobic (or cardio), and strength training. Aerobic exercise can be activities such as walking, swimming, biking, and for some, it may need to be ‘sit and be fit” exercises. Strength training need not involve super heavy weights, just something that involves moderate levels of weight and resistance, such as Pilates or yoga. In addition to aerobic exercise and strength training, it is also essential to include balance and coordination exercises, such as yoga or balance ball exercises. Improving balance and coordination can lower the risk of falls, reducing the probability of head injuries caused by falls.

The US Surgeon General lists other benefits to exercise, some of which include:

  1. Reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
  2. Reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
  3. Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  4. Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.
  5. It helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
  6. It promotes psychological well-being
  7. It increases the speed of wound healing
  8. It helps older adults with their driving ability.

The recommended amount of exercise each week is 150 minutes. One of the most common ways to split this time up is 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

For some sit and be fit ideas visit YouTube and search Mary Ann Wilson, RN. She has many “sit and be fit” workouts.

Cathy Parkinson, CQSW, DipCouns.

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