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Published:April 10th, 2007 05:19 EST
Don't Forget to Remember to Exercise --- Your Memory Won't Overlook It

Don't Forget to Remember to Exercise --- Your Memory Won't Overlook It

By Tricia McCarter-Joseph

Want to make an investment in your memory for the long-term? Try a gym membership. Forget the post-it notes, to-do lists, and electronic organizers, because a recent study claims that exercising can boost your memory by generating brain cell growth in an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Researchers at Columbia University for the first time have been able to observe neurogenesis, the growth of neurons, within a living human brain. Previous studies were done using postmortem examinations in animals, which discovered new brain cell growth in the hippocampus.  

Dr. Scott Small, MD, found that physical activity affected a region of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, associated with age-related memory decline, and exercise improves this process.

“I, like many physicians, already encourage my patients to get active and this adds yet another reason to the long list of reasons why exercise is good for overall health,” said Small, an associate professor of neurology at Columbia.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, 11 healthy adults underwent a three-month aerobic exercise regime, and their brains were scanned before and after the program. The results showed that exercise generated blood flow to the dentate gyrus, but more interesting was that the more fit a person became, the more blood flow the brain generated.

“These findings show that dentate gyrus cerebral blood volume provides an imaging correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis and that exercise differentially targets the dentate gyrus, a hippocampal sub region important for memory and implicated in cognitive aging,” the researchers wrote.

Wider implications

The finding coincides with a newly published report from the Alzheimer’s Association estimating that more than 5 million people currently live with the memory-robbing disease, costing the US economy more than $148 billion annually.  

With age-related memory decline beginning around age 30 for most adults according to experts, roughly 6.8 percent of the US population needs to be concerned about their long-term mental health.

But Dr. Small is still optimistic.

“Our next step is to identify the exercise regime that is most beneficial to improve cognition and reduce normal memory loss,” he said, “so that physicians may be able to prescribe specific types of exercise to improve memory.”

In the meantime a brisk walk in the park or a ride on your bike may be all you need to…

Did I leave my gym bag in the car?