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The best way to prevent memory loss

Created date

August 22nd, 2014

Many of us have known or cared for loved ones suffering from memory loss and its associated, sometimes devastating, loss of function and independence. Because of this, we are all highly motivated to find a way to prevent and treat memory impairment, and enormous effort and study has been directed toward finding a cure. Despite this wealth of research on dementia-related illnesses, little remains known about how to prevent or treat them. Time and time again, however, one action stands out as the most promising: regular physical activity.

Studies show that people who exercise regularly not only have healthier hearts, they also have healthier brains. University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers found that a 12-week exercise program improved memory and brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment. Another study from the University of California Irvine showed that a single six-minute period of moderately vigorous activity improved memory function in people with preexisting memory problems.

The research has not established a definitive cause and effect, but there could be several reasons why there is a link between physical activity and better brain function. Imaging studies show that people who improve their cardiovascular fitness through exercise have increased blood flow in the hippocampus—the portion of the brain involved with memory and verbal learning. Exercise may also serve to strengthen the connections among nerve cells; reduce inflammation; or stimulate hormonal changes that have a positive effect on the brain’s structure and function.

Executive function

Aside from memory and recall, a set of more complex mental processes called executive function seems to improve the most from exercise. Executive function is the ability to apply past experience to your current actions. Examples of activities that require executive function include balancing a checkbook, organizing a project, and managing your time.

To reap the most benefit from exercise, you should do at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity four or five days a week. It’s okay to break it up into ten-minute increments if that works better with your schedule. If you have medical reasons that keep you from this level of participation, or you are unsure, please speak with your doctor to develop an activity plan. Even simple exercises and stretching can be beneficial.

There are many other great reasons to exercise, including preventing heart disease, diabetes, and improving your mood. Your bones and muscles also get stronger, which can help prevent falls. And now you have yet another reason to get up and be physically active every day—the potential for a better memory for a lifetime.