According to a study, which involved a collaboration between researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and the University of Tsukuba in Japan, light exercise like tai chi or yoga can help strengthen the areas of your brain that are responsible for memory formation and storage.
The link between mild exertion and memory function
For the study, the researchers observed 36 healthy young adults, and found that one 10-minute period of mild exertion is linked to significant cognitive benefits. The findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The researchers used high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the participants’ brains shortly after exercise sessions. The results showed “better connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas linked to detailed memory processing.”
The dentate gyrus is “the first region where all sensory modalities merge together to form unique representations and memories that bind stimuli together.” This part of the hippocampus is crucial to a person’s learning and memory.
Michael Yassa, the project co-leader and professor at UCI, explained that the hippocampus is key to the creation of new memories. However, it’s also one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as humans age. The decline of the hippocampus is worse in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. (Related: Exercise preserves brain cells and prevents memory loss.)
Yassa, who is also Chancellor’s Fellow of Neurobiology & Behavior, added that boosting the function of the hippocampus can greatly improve memory in everyday settings.
The neuroscientists also discovered that the level of heightened connectivity helped estimate the degree of recall enhancement.
Yassa, who is the director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the newly launched UCI Brain Initiative, explained that even though earlier studies have focused on how physical activity promotes the generation of new brain cells in memory regions, the current study establishes a more immediate impact, which is the improved communication between memory-focused areas of the human brain.
Yassa added that while it’s possible that new cells are being born, this is a process that can take some time. On the other hand, the researchers observed immediate positive results in the participants after only 10-minute periods of exercise.
The professor noted that it’s good to see more people becoming health-conscious, such as those who monitor their exercise habits by tracking the number of steps they take in a day. He shared that taking quick walks daily could have significant effects on boosting an individual’s memory and cognition.
Yassa and the other researchers from UCI and the University of Tsukuba are extending this avenue of research by observing older adults who have a higher chance of developing age-related cognitive impairment. The neuroscientists are also conducting long-term interventions to determine if regular, brief, light exercise done every day for several weeks or months may have a positive impact on the brain’s structure and function in the participants.
Yassa concluded that finding out the exercise prescription best suited for the elderly can help researchers develop an effective method for delaying the progress of cognitive decline.
You can read more articles about natural ways to boost brain function and memory at Brain.news.