Exercise activates memory neural networks in older adults


How quickly do we experience the benefits of exercise? A new
University of Maryland study of healthy older adults shows that just one
session of exercise increased activation in the brain circuits
associated with memory – including the hippocampus – which shrinks with
age and is the brain region attacked first in Alzheimer’s disease.

“While it has been shown that regular exercise can increase the
volume of the hippocampus, our study provides new information that acute
exercise has the ability to impact this important brain region,” said
Dr. J. Carson Smith, an associate professor of kinesiology in the
University of Maryland School of Public Health and the study’s lead

The study is published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

Dr. Smith’s research team measured the brain activity (using fMRI)
of healthy participants ages 55-85 who were asked to perform a memory
task that involves identifying famous names and non famous ones. The
action of remembering famous names activates a neural network related to
semantic memory, which is known to deteriorate over time with memory

This test was conducted 30 minutes after a session of moderately
intense exercise (70% of max effort) on an exercise bike and on a
separate day after a period of rest. Participants’ brain activation
while correctly remembering names was significantly greater in four
brain cortical regions (including the middle frontal gyrus, inferior
temporal gryus, middle temporal gyrus, and fusiform gyrus) after
exercise compared to after rest. The increased activation of the
hippocampus was also seen on both sides of the brain.

“Just like a muscle adapts to repeated use, single sessions of
exercise may flex cognitive neural networks in ways that promote
adaptations over time and lend to increased network integrity and
function and allow more efficient access to memories,” Dr. Smith

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