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Exercise and Memory

There is a considerable body of research out there that shows how a long-term exercise program decreases the risk of cognitive decline as we age.  However, a new study focuses on the effects of a short burst of moderate exercise on memory.

Researchers at the University of California Irvine’s Center for the Neurology of Learning and Memory tested persons with and without memory deficits, between the ages of 50 and 85 years.  Subjects were shown photographs of pleasurable images, and immediately exercise for six minutes on a stationary bicycle at 70% of their maximum capacity.  One hour later, they were tested on how well they remembered the images.  Results showed that subjects who participated in exercise, both those who were healthy and those who displayed mild cognitive impairment, showed an increase in memory over those who did not exercise.

Previously, research had shown that the pharmacological administration of norephinephrine sharpens memory, whereas blocking the chemical interferes with memory.  Working on a hypothesis based on this finding, a group led by Dr. Sabrina Segal speculated that the short burst of energy triggered a release of norepinephrine, a chemical which assists in memory formulation.  They discovered that after exercise the amount of a biomarker indicating norephinephrine activity in the brain, salivary alpha amylase, showed a significant increase.  People with memory impairment were particularly prone to this finding.  Researchers have speculated that these findings may point to a nonpharmacological means of increasing memory in both healthy persons as well as those who have memory impairments.  However, more research is needed before a definite tie-in can be made here.

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