AS WE GROW OLDER, our memories tend to fade, ever slightly at first. Exercise can help reduce memory loss since people who include a little yoga in their day may be more likely to remember where they put their keys. Walking can also be a good option for exercise.

Researchers found that even very light workouts can increase the connectivity between parts of the brain responsible for memory formation and storage. In a study of 36 healthy young adults, the researchers discovered that a single 10-minute period of mild exertion can yield considerable cognitive benefits. Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, the team examined the subjects’ brains shortly after exercise sessions and saw better connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas linked to detailed memory processing.

The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories. It is one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older – and much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease. Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.

Past research focused on the way exercise promotes the generation of new brain cells in memory regions. This new study demonstrates a more strengthened communication between memory-focused parts of the brain.

We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold. What the researchers observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterward.

A little bit of physical activity can go a long way. It’s encouraging to see my more mature friends keeping track of their exercise habits – by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example. Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.

Researchers are extending this area of research by testing older adults who are at greater risk of age-related mental impairment and by conducting long-term interventions to see if regular, brief, light exercise done daily for several weeks or months can have a positive impact on the brain’s structure and function in these subjects.

There is tremendous value to understanding the exercise prescription that best works in the elderly so that recommendations can be made for reducing cognitive decline.

I did not go to the gym until I had more free time, that is, not until our youngest son went off to college. But before that, I had been active in gardening and walking – certainly a good combination. And so I hope to avoid the pitfalls of memory loss in my sunset years…. knock on wood. By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail May 29-June 4, 2023 issue)