A short surge of condensed exercise boosts the compression of memories in both elders in good mental shape as well as those with slight cognitive impairment, according to new research by a team of scientists from UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory.

Previous studies have aimed towards exploring the advantages of a long-term exercise program on cognitive function and total health while progressing with age. However, the current research was the first to analyze the direct effects of a short surge of exercise on memory.

A study done in 2011 by a group of researchers from University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois, Rice University, and Ohio State University, established that just one year of exercise in older adults can improve spatial memory by reversing the shrinkage of the hippocampus. These results proved that aerobic exercise is directly connected to improvement of memory function.

The investigators conducted a study with adults between the ages of 50 and 85 years with and without memory issues, and had them look at pictures of pleasant things such as animals and nature. Afterwards, they rode a stationary bicycle for six minutes at 70 percent of their maximum capacity.

An hour following the exercise, the volunteers took a surprise recall test on the images they viewed earlier. Outcomes revealed a remarkable increase of memory by exercise in both cognitively impaired and healthy adults, in contrast to participants who did not ride the bike.

Researcher Sabrina Segal said:

“We found that a single, short instance of moderately intense exercise particularly improved memory in individuals with memory deficits. Because of its implications and the need to better understand the mechanism by which exercise may enhance memory, we’re following up this study with an investigation of potential underlying biological factors.”

She thinks the boost in memory could be explained by the exercise prompting the release of norepinephrine, a chemical messenger in the brain, well known to contribute to memory modulation.

The authors’ hypothesis is built on earlier research which showed that rising norepinephrine levels through pharmacological alteration enhances memory, and that inhibiting norepinephrine impairs memory.

In recent studies, Segal and her research team found that levels of salivary alpha amylase, a biomarker that mirrors norepinephrine activity within the brain, greatly increased in subjects after exercise. This connection was extremely powerful in participants with memory problems.

Segal concluded:

“The current findings offer a natural and relatively safe alternative to pharmacological interventions for memory enhancement in healthy older individuals as well as those who suffer from cognitive deficits. With a growing population of the aged, the need for improvement of quality of life and prevention of mental decline is more important than ever before.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald