Alzheimer's disease, Exercise, Med Lifestyle, Medical News, Neurocognitive disorders, Neuroscience

Mild exercise shown to immediately increase memory function

University of California- Irvine and University of Tsukuba researchers utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify increased activity in the critical brain areas linked to detailed memory processing. (Picture: Brain scans showing the areas of brain activation following exercise; Credit: Getty/iStock).

Even extremely mild exercises can boost the connection between areas of the brain important for memory creation and preservation, according to researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

The researchers observed that a single 10-minute bout of light exercise can provide significant cognitive advantages in a study of 36 healthy young individuals. The scientists studied the participants’ brains using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging immediately after exercise sessions and found improved connection between the hippocampus dentate gyrus and cortical regions connected to memory processing.

Michael Yassa, UCI professor of neurobiology & behavior and co-author on the paper told UCI News, “The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories; it’s 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.”

Yassa added that although previous research has identified a link between exercise and the generation of neurons in these areas, this new study identified a more immediate effect– improved connection across memory-focused brain regions.

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

The researchers also identified that the degree of enhanced recollection was predicted by the extent of increased connection.

“It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits — by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example,” he said. “Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

The UC Irvine and University of Tsukuba researchers are expanding this line of research by focusing on seniors at risk of dementia. They plan to conduct long-term studies assessing how light exercise done daily for several months can improve the structure and function of the brain in these at-risk individuals.


The study was published in PNAS on March 23rd, 2022.

Abstract. Physical exercise has beneficial effects on neurocognitive function, including hippocampus-dependent episodic memory. Exercise intensity level can be assessed according to whether it induces a stress response; the most effective exercise for improving hippocampal function remains unclear. Our prior work using a special treadmill running model in animals has shown that stress-free mild exercise increases hippocampal neuronal activity and promotes adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus, improving spatial memory performance. However, the rapid modification, from mild exercise, on hippocampal memory function and the exact mechanisms for these changes, in particular the impact on pattern separation acting in the DG and CA3 regions, are yet to be elucidated. To this end, we adopted an acute-exercise design in humans, coupled with high-resolution functional MRI techniques, capable of resolving hippocampal subfields. A single 10-min bout of very light-intensity exercise (30%𝑉˙O2peak) results in rapid enhancement in pattern separation and an increase in functional connectivity between hippocampal DG/CA3 and cortical regions (i.e., parahippocampal, angular, and fusiform gyri). Importantly, the magnitude of the enhanced functional connectivity predicted the extent of memory improvement at an individual subject level. These results suggest that brief, very light exercise rapidly enhances hippocampal memory function, possibly by increasing DG/CA3−neocortical functional connectivity.

Michele Xavier, Leona Barros, Leandro Oliveira, Camilli Santos, Diego Viana-Gomes, Rodrigo Santos, Benefícios da atividade física para a promoção da saúde dos idosos com alzheimer: uma revisão de literatura, JIM, 10.29073/jim.v3i1.584, 3, 1, (063-071), (2022).

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