Moderate exercise such as
walking 'boosts memory power'
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Walking for 40 minutes a few times a week is
enough to preserve memory and keep ageing brains on top form, research shows.
Moderate exercise increased the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain
that makes memories, in 120 volunteers.
The year-long trial, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, showed performance on memory tests also improved.
Exercise may buffer against dementia as well as age-related memory loss.
The latest work looked at healthy people in their 60s rather than people with
Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.
But the findings have important implications for ageing societies faced with a
dementia time bomb.
In the UK, 820,000 people have dementia, and this figure is set to double by
Until a cure is discovered, finding cheap and simple ways to reverse this trend
is imperative, say experts.
Little and often
Professor Kirk Erickson and colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh in the
US set out to investigate the impact that even moderate exercise might have on
They split their 120 volunteers into two groups. One group was asked to begin an
exercise regimen of walking around a track for 40 minutes a day, three days a
week, while the others were limited to doing simple stretching and toning
Brain scans and memory tests were performed at the start of the study, halfway
through the study and again at the end.
Scans revealed hippocampus volume increased by around 2% in people who did
regular aerobic exercise. The same region of the brain decreased in volume by
1.4% in those who did stretching exercises, consistent with the decrease seen in
Both groups showed some improvement over time on memory tests. In the walking
group, the improvement appeared to be linked with increased size of the
Professor Erickson said: "We think of the atrophy of the hippocampus in later
life as almost inevitable. But we've shown that even moderate exercise for one
year can increase the size of that structure.
"The brain at that stage remains modifiable."
Dr Simon Ridley of the Alzheimer's Research Trust said that although the study
does not look at memory loss in Alzheimer's or dementia, it suggests "it's never
too late to start exercising to help keep our brains healthy".
"Even modest exercise may improve memory and help protect the brain from normal
decline caused by ageing.
"Increasing evidence suggests regular exercise and a healthy diet may help
reduce our risk of developing dementia as well as reaping numerous other
benefits from living a healthy lifestyle."