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We all know that exercise is a pillar of good physical health. But what many people may not know is the critical role physical activity plays in cognitive performance and mental clarity.
Exercise affects the brain in several ways and is known to help preserve and improve memory, learning, and concentration. Many studies over the years have looked at how physical activity affects our brains. The scientific evidence suggests that physical activity stimulates oxygenation to the brain and boosts growth in the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Scientists have also discovered which types of physical activity help improve cognitive function. For anyone looking to lift brain fog and boost mental clarity, try these five types of exercise for improved memory.
Regular walking is a good habit for overall well-being, including cardiovascular health and mood. For those who enjoy a daily stroll, there’s more good news. Taking regular walks at a moderate pace may also improve your brain health.
According to a 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, scientists found that a morning walk at moderate intensity improved working memory in sedentary or obese adults. The researchers found that after a morning walk, the participants’ brains released a protein called BDNF — brain-derived neurotrophic factor—a gene that helps create new neurons and neural connections in the brain. Recently, researchers have discovered that BDNF is an important molecule in helping to promote memory processing.
Other studies have also found similar results that show that taking regular walks at a moderate pace can help improve memory function and potentially stave off memory decline in aging adults.
We’ve all heard the expression “runner’s high,” which describes the sense of euphoria and stress-reduction runners experience. Many scientists have investigated how running affects the brain, and studies have found a link between this type of exercise and improved memory in both youths and adults.
German researchers tested the memory skills of students after they participated in a running program. The researchers found that students who performed one 30-minute running session per week for six weeks had better visuospatial memory performance and a more positive mood compared to students who didn’t exercise.
Visuospatial memory is the ability to visualize and recall images in your mind and remember their physical location in relation to other objects. Essentially, the study found that regular running might improve the part of your brain that lets you remember where you put your keys or wallet by visualizing where you last left them.
Other scientists have reached similar results and have proposed that the reason why running can help improve your memory recall is that it promotes the growth of new brain cells.
Aerobic or cardio exercise activates your cardiovascular system, which helps protect against conditions like stroke and heart disease. But cardio activity is also a beneficial way to alleviate brain fog, which can occur with age or due to a sedentary lifestyle
Researchers from the University of British Columbia investigated how aerobic exercise might impact people showing signs of memory decline. They looked at 86 women ages 70-80 years old who had been assessed for mild cognitive impairment. They divided the women into three groups who performed aerobic training, resistance training, or balance and tone training. After six weeks of exercise, the researchers measured the volume of the participants’ hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that plays a major role in our ability to learn and retain memory.
The results showed that the women who underwent six weeks of aerobic exercise had the greatest improvements in the volume of their hippocampus. These results are promising to anyone experiencing memory decline or brain fog, as it shows that these symptoms can be prevented or controlled with regular cardio activity. Tennis and swimming are two examples of aerobic exercises that aging adults can enjoy and benefit from.
Strength training is a form of exercise that involves weightlifting and resistance training to build physical strength. It’s beneficial not only for disease prevention and mobility but also for mental health and preserving memory in aging adults.
Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia studied a group of 100 adults aged 55 years and older with mild cognitive impairment. Participants underwent a high-intensity progressive resistance training program twice per week for six months. The researchers found that the group that participated in the resistance training program had significantly higher cognitive function scores, including memory, compared to the control groups that didn’t perform strength training.
Interestingly, the study also found a correlation between the amount of strength training and the level of cognitive improvement. As one of the study’s researchers described, “The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain.” By engaging in regular, high-intensity strength training, aging adults may be able to prevent cognitive decline and improve their memory skills.
Yoga is an ancient practice that combines movement with mindfulness and breathwork. It has long been studied for its emotional and mental health benefits and ability to reduce stress. But yoga may also have benefits for improving memory, concentration, and learning.
According to research from the University of California, study participants who practiced mindful yoga with breathing techniques showed an improved ability to concentrate. Another study from the University of California Los Angeles also found similar results. Participants with mild cognitive impairment showed improvement in memory performance after a 12-week yoga and mindfulness program.
The mindfulness component may be the key reason why yoga affects memory. Other research has found that a regular mindfulness practice can help improve working memory by increasing the person’s ability to concentrate and disregard mental distractions. When yoga is performed with both mindfulness and breathwork, it may be a beneficial form of exercise for aging adults to help improve concentration and memory.
As mentioned, exercise can be beneficial to brain function. With many different types of exercise contributing to improved memory, you can choose whichever ones you’d like to help keep your mental function sharp based on your unique symptoms and concerns.
If you’re an overachiever, you might even adopt a routine that involves all five of these exercises to further maintain mental clarity.
As we age, it becomes increasingly important to protect our cognitive health and preserve our memory. Physical activity is a beneficial way to prevent memory decline while maintaining and improving overall health. Certain types of exercise, including cardio, strength training, and even mindful yoga, are particularly beneficial forms of physical activity for improving memory.
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