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Even 10 minutes of light physical activity 'immediately improves memory'

Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition
– Michael Yassa

Taking part in light or moderate exercise has an immediate, positive effect on memory function – according to new research by University California Irvine (UCI).

In a study of 36 healthy young adults, UCI researchers discovered that a single 10-minute period of mild exertion – such as yoga, tai chi or walking – can yield considerable cognitive benefits.

Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, the team examined subjects’ brains shortly after exercise sessions and saw better connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas linked to detailed memory processing.

“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,” said project co-leader Michael Yassa, UCI professor and director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

“Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”

Yassa added that while prior research has centred on the way exercise promotes the generation of new brain cells in memory regions, this new study demonstrates a more immediate impact: strengthened communication between memory-focused parts of the brain.

“We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold,” he said.

“What we observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterwards.”

He stressed that even "little bit" of physical activity can go a long way.

“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.”

Yassa and his team are now extending the research by testing older adults who are at greater risk of age-related mental impairment and by conducting long-term interventions to see if regular, brief, light exercise done daily for several weeks or months can have a positive impact on the brain’s structure and function in these subjects.

The results were published in the most recent edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Taking part in light or moderate exercise has an immediate, positive effect on memory function – according to new research by University California Irvine (UCI).
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