Memory and Aerobic Walking: Senior Health

Feb 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

New information about the effect exercise has on memory gives senior citizens hope for better health as we age.  Our brain is divided into a number of parts, including one in the center called the hippocampus.  That’s where new information gets placed and put into a ‘code’ so we can recall it later.  If we didn’t have this little part in our brain, we wouldn’t be able to form new information/memory.  

The hippocampus gets smaller as we age, leading to memory loss and dementia.  But researchers have discovered that it is one of the parts of the brain that continue to form new cells and can create new memories for storage in another part of the brain.  And guess what?  Exercise is the best way to keep the hippocampus forming new cells and sending new memories out for storage.

An expert in Rhode Island, Peter Snyder, PhD, says several studies have been published recently on the power of exercise on the aging brain.

“The literature on exercise is just tremendous,” he says. “What we find is that with exercise — with aerobic exercise, a moderate amount on a regular basis — there are chemical changes that occur in the brain that promote the growth of new neurons in [the hippocampus].”

Another research study from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, documented the positive impact exercise has on the growth of the hippocampus.  The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by neuroscientist Art Kramer.  Senior citizens who got up off the couch and walked three times a week for 40 minutes showed improved brain functioning in the area of the hippocampus. 

“The participants in our study were 120 very sedentary people,” Kramer says.

He adds none had dementia or memory problems when they entered the study. “They were relatively healthy, but certainly ‘couch potatoes’ would fit as a label.”

The participants described walking at an aerobic page, fast enough to work up a sweat.  Three times a week, for 40 minutes each.  Kramer said, “What we found is that individuals in the aerobic group showed increases in the volume of their hippocampus.”

This is really good information for us seniors.  You can read more about the study here.  Just another reason to get up off the couch and go walk… getting your heartbeat up enough to work up a sweat.  Makes good sense.

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