Exercise Boosts Brain Power




shutterstock_108895151

Everyone knows that exercise – pretty much any kind – is good for the body. And, most people agree that it is good for the soul and improves overall well-being. But, what does exercise do for the brain? A recent study shows that just one 20 minute session of exercise can improve memory.

Many studies have evaluated the effects of aerobic exercise on mental health, cognition, and memory, and virtually all have shown improvements in each of these parameters after long-term exercise programs. Most of the studies have been conducted in elderly people or people with cognitive impairment and the results have provided support for integrated exercise and wellness programs in the treatment of dementia and cognitive decline. Few studies have evaluated short-term or strength training exercise regimens. Until now, at least.

A team of psychology and physiology researchers recently reported that a single short session of resistance training improved long-term memory in young, healthy adults. The study included 46 participants who were asked to view pictures before completing a round of leg extensions; the participants were asked to remember the pictures two days later.

The active group (the one that completed the leg extensions with maximal personal effort) remembered more of the photos than the passive group (the one that just sat on the exercise equipment and allowed the researchers and the machine move their legs). Within the active group, participants with greater physiological responses to exercise, which were measured by heart rate and blood pressure during the exercise session, had the best accuracy in remembering the pictures. Together, these results indicate that episodic memory – long-term memory for previous events – improved after exercise.

The participants also provided saliva samples and the results of testing indicated that the active group had higher levels of alpha amylase, a marker of norepinephrine levels in the brain. Norepinephrine, which is released in response to physical and psychological stressors, has been linked to better memory in rodent and human studies.

This norepinephrine release after learning something new (the period of consolidation) improves the ability to remember what was learned. In real-world scenarios, norepinephrine released in response to stress helps retain the memory of the emotional or challenging event.

The authors of the current study concluded that other simple strength training activities, such as traditional weight-lifting, push-ups, sit-ups, knee bends, or squats, would likely have the same effects on memory. And, people would not need to dedicate large amounts of time to exercising to realize some gains.

More studies are needed to confirm exactly what types of exercise offer the most benefit for specific cognitive domains, but exercise may be, in fact, a natural and practical therapeutic intervention, not just to treat people with existing cognitive decline, but to boost brain power and prevent decline in healthy people.

Looks like brains and brawn really can go together.

References

Barnes DE, Mehling W, Wu E, Beristianos M, Yaffe K, Skultety K, & Chesney MA (2015). Preventing Loss of Independence through Exercise (PLIÉ): A Pilot Clinical Trial in Older Adults with Dementia. PloS one, 10 (2) PMID: 25671576

Bossers WJ, van der Woude LH, Boersma F, Hortobágyi T, Scherder EJ, & van Heuvelen MJ (2015). A 9-Week Aerobic and Strength Training Program Improves Cognitive and Motor Function in Patients with Dementia: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry PMID: 25648055

Carvalho A, Rea IM, Parimon T, & Cusack BJ (2014). Physical activity and cognitive function in individuals over 60 years of age: a systematic review. Clinical interventions in aging, 9, 661-82 PMID: 24748784

Fiatarone Singh MA, Gates N, Saigal N, Wilson GC, Meiklejohn J, Brodaty H, Wen W, Singh N, Baune BT, Suo C, Baker MK, Foroughi N, Wang Y, Sachdev PS, & Valenzuela M (2014). The Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) study—resistance training and/or cognitive training in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized, double-blind, double-sham controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 15 (12), 873-80 PMID: 25444575

Liu-Ambrose T, Nagamatsu LS, Graf P, Beattie BL, Ashe MC, & Handy TC (2010). Resistance training and executive functions: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Archives of internal medicine, 170 (2), 170-8 PMID: 20101012

Nagamatsu LS, Chan A, Davis JC, Beattie BL, Graf P, Voss MW, Sharma D, & Liu-Ambrose T (2013). Physical activity improves verbal and spatial memory in older adults with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomized controlled trial. Journal of aging research, 2013 PMID: 23509628

Nouchi R, Taki Y, Takeuchi H, Sekiguchi A, Hashizume H, Nozawa T, Nouchi H, & Kawashima R (2014). Four weeks of combination exercise training improved executive functions, episodic memory, and processing speed in healthy elderly people: evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 36 (2), 787-99 PMID: 24065294

Segal SK, Cotman CW, & Cahill LF (2012). Exercise-induced noradrenergic activation enhances memory consolidation in both normal aging and patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD, 32 (4), 1011-8 PMID: 22914593

Volkers KM, & Scherder EJ (2014). Physical performance is associated with working memory in older people with mild to severe cognitive impairment. BioMed research international, 2014 PMID: 24757674

Weinberg L, Hasni A, Shinohara M, & Duarte A (2014). A single bout of resistance exercise can enhance episodic memory performance. Acta psychologica, 153, 13-9 PMID: 25262058

Image via Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
See All Posts By The Author

Do not miss out ever again. Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered to your inbox a few times a month.