The sad truth is that age-related memory decline begins around the age of 30. Most of the symptoms of this memory loss will not interfere with daily living. The use of language – – words, pronunciation, and the rules for combining them — is usually only modestly affected by aging. Language comprehension, vocabulary, and syntax are also preserved as you age. The speed of information processing does, however, gradually slow. It becomes more difficult to learn new information and to recall new information. It also becomes increasingly difficult to “multi-task.”
Now a new study suggests that exercise may actually build new cells in the brain region linked with memory and memory loss.
The study, conducted by Dr. Scott Small, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, first focused on the effects exercise had on the dentate gyrus of mice (a part of the hippocampus that is known to be affected in age-related memory decline). The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging scans to document the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus.
“Once these findings were established in mice, we were interested in determining how exercise affects the hippocampal cerebral blood volume maps of humans,” the researchers wrote.
The next study was performed on 11 healthy adults who were made to undergo a three-month aerobic exercise regime. The researchers took MRIs of the participants’ brains before and after the exercise regime. They also measured the oxygen volume of each participant before and after the exercise program to determine overall fitness level.
It was found that the more fit the participants became through involvement in the exercise program, the more blood flow was generated to the dentate gyrus.
The next step, Dr. Small says, is to “identify the exercise regimen that is most beneficial to improve cognition and reduce normal memory loss, so that physicians may be able to prescribe specific types of exercise to improve memory.”
This is yet another reason to try and get 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Besides boosting your brain power, exercise can help:
— Strengthen your cardiovascular and respiratory systems; — Keep your bones and muscles strong; — Manage your weight; — Prevent and manage diabetes; — Ease depression and manage pain and stress; — Reduce your risk of certain types of cancer; — Sleep better.
The extra strength and endurance you’ll gain will also make daily tasks, such as household chores and errands, much easier to do. And, if, like Dr. Small says, exercise can boost your brain power, you’ll feel smarter, look better, and feel more confident about yourself.