How Physical Exercise Affects Your Memory

Until recently, scientists have always believed that by adulthood, our human brains were relatively fixed in their structure and function. This was especially so when compared to malleable tissues, like muscles that continually grow and shrivel in direct response to how we go about our day. However, there have been a few recent experiments that say otherwise. Research now shows that adult brains can actually be quite plastic, and they are able to rewire and reshape themselves in various ways based on our specific lifestyles.

For example, it is now believed that physical activity is able to affect our brains. In experiments conducted, exercise was found to have increased the production of certain neurochemicals, and also increased the number of newborn neurons in mature brains. Similarly, studies show that regular exercise over time is able to increase the volume of the hippocampus — a key part of the brain’s memory networks. It also improves many aspects of people’s thinking.


One Run Is All It Takes

There are already countless reasons why we should be exercising regularly. It will keep us away from gaining weight and obesity, and also decrease our risk of developing any chronic illnesses. It can even boost our moods, and it may even add years to our lives. With the results from these recent studies, regular exercise can even improve our memory functions too.

In fact, a single workout may be enough to immediately change how our brains function. It can affect how well we recognise common names and process similar information. The recent studies also add even more growing evidence that exercise can have rapid effects on brain function, and also that these effects could accumulate and lead to long-term improvements in how our brains operate and we remember.

When you first start exercising, your muscles will strain and burn through energy. But as you become used to regular exercise, you become fitter and those same muscles will respond more efficiently, thus using less energy for doing the same amount of work. In the same way, brain activity will spike after your first session of exercise, and it is the prelude to tissue remodelling that will improve the function of those areas. In simpler terms, it means our brain’s memory centres become stronger and fitter.

Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance and prevent diabetes, reduce inflammation within our system, and also stimulate the release of growth factors — these are chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.

Additionally, exercise helps to improve mood and help you sleep better, while also reducing stress and anxiety. That’s also quite helpful, considering how problems in these areas have been linked to cognitive impairment and decreased brain function.


Where To Begin

So, if you want to be able to remember more things and for longer, what should you do? You start by exercising, of course! While we don’t exactly know which exercise is the best,  almost all of the research has shown that aerobic exercises like walking, running, and swimming — basically, any exercise that gets your heart pumping — might yield slightly better benefits.

But just how much exercise is required to improve memory? In a study conducted, participants walked briskly for one hour, twice a week. That amounted to 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. In general, half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or a total of at least 150 minutes a week should be sufficient. If that is too much for you to handle, start with a few minutes a day, and gradually increase the amount of time you exercise daily by five or 10 minutes every week until you finally reach your goal.

If you don’t want to walk, consider other moderate-intensity exercises, such as swimming or stair climbing, and try sports like tennis, squash, or dancing. If you’re the sort that lacks the discipline to work out on your own, join one of the many varieties of exercise classes, or find a workout buddy to help keep you on the right track. Even simple tasks like household activities can count as well, such as intense floor mopping, raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat.

Whatever exercise and motivators you choose, strive to commit yourself to establish exercise as a daily habit — almost like you’re taking a prescription medication. After all, they say that exercise is an effective medicine, and that should be on the top of anyone’s list of reasons to work out.