Exercise boosts your memory

It’s long been believed that an increase in physical activity and fitness can result in improved mental health and wellbeing. Thankfully, research tends to back up this belief.

At the University of Hamburg, Kirsten Hotting, Ph D, a lecturer in psychology, conducted a study into health and fitness as it applies to memory, the study involving 68 inactive men and women, ages 40 to 56. She put them on a regular regime of either cycling or stretching, adding a further group of 18 non-active people as a control group. Before the study, they all got a heart fitness test, and each of the exercise periods lasted for an hour, twice a week. The study was published in Health Psychology.

“The stretching/coordination training started with a short warm-up phase, followed by stretching and strengthening of the major muscles of the whole body,” she says. “Coordination exercises were balance exercises,
complex movements of arms and legs, and so on.
The training ended with some relaxation exercises.”

The cyclists were asked to exercise at their target rate for 45 minutes (the target rate was determined by the heart health and fitness test), after which they underwent a cool-down period. In the cycling group, heart fitness was seen to improve by 15%, although both the inactive group and those doing the stretching exercises showed no noticeable improvement.

Proof! Exercise boosts your memory!

Before and after the study, all groups were tested on memory and other cognitive skills. Both the cycling and the stretching groups showed greater improvements in remembering lists than did the inactive group, showing that the exercise did indeed act as a memory booster, and indicating the benefits of exercise in terms of mental capability.

The cycling group performed better in the recognition test (which tests long-term retention of learned material), while the stretching group fared better in tests of attention, where they had to locate and mark certain letters as quickly as possible. Although there was a measurable memory improvement, Hotting didn’t find noticeable improvements in other cognitive skills.

Other, similar, studies have shown that physical activity and fitness exercises seem to result in improvements in memory, which of course can impact on a person’s everyday life. If someone has trouble recalling items on lists, for example, that deficiency can make life that much harder in all kinds of ways, ranging from simple tasks like doing the shopping to more challenging ones like learning a foreign language.

Exercise can help safeguard against cardiovascular disease

Clearly the benefits of exercise affect more than just the size of a person’s muscles, or his or her waistline. Cardiovascular activity increases blood flow generally, and if undertaken regularly can help to prevent cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and strokes.

It would be worth remembering this when you start to think you’re too old to exercise, or too tired. You’ll never be too old while you’re still physically able. Even if you can only do one press up at the moment, and that only with your knees touching the floor, then that’s better than nothing. Start from where you are, and make headway as best you can, and if that means really slowly, so be it.

Better to be doing something, even if it seems a tiny amount, than nothing at all.


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