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26 May 2020

Study: aerobic exercise improves memory by boosting blood flow to the brain
BY Tom Walker

The study documented changes in long-term memory and cerebral blood flow among people 60 or older with memory problems

The study documented changes in long-term memory and cerebral blood flow among people 60 or older with memory problems
photo: Shutterstock

Aerobic exercise boosts blood flow into two key regions of the brain associated with memory, which can result in improved cognition even in older populations.

A study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern) documented changes in long-term memory and cerebral blood flow in 30 participants, each of them 60 or older with memory problems.

Half of the group underwent 12 months of aerobic exercise training; the rest did only stretching.

The exercise group showed a 47 per cent improvement in some memory scores after one year compared with minimal change in the stretch participants.

Brain imaging of the exercise group, taken at the beginning and end of the study, showed increased blood flow into the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus – neural regions that play important roles in memory function.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and was led by Binu Thomas, a UT Southwestern senior research scientist in neuroimaging.

“We’ve shown that even when your memory starts to fade, you can still do something about it by adding aerobic exercise to your lifestyle,” Thomas said.

He added that improving blood flow – especially through exercise – may someday be used in combination with other strategies to preserve brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment.

“Cerebral blood flow is a part of the puzzle, and we need to continue piecing it together,” Thomas said.

“But we’ve seen enough data to know that starting a fitness programme can have lifelong benefits for our brains as well as our hearts.”

• To access the full study and further information, click here for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.



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