Do you know why you lose some of your memory function when you age? It’s because the brain actually shrinks. This, you are no doubt thinking, is something that most definitely can’t be reversed. Everyone should just accept that an agile brain and an excellent memory are things of the past once they hit middle age. But not so, according to a recent study done by researchers in Columbus, Ohio. Results show that a one-year period of exercise doesn’t only slow down brain shrinkage — it could also actually reverse it! For the study, researchers divided 120 sedentary adults in their mid- to late 60s into two groups: one group walked around a track for 40 minutes of aerobic exercise, three days a week, while the other group did stretching.
The research team found that both groups performed better on a test of spatial memory. Spatial memory helps you to remember things like driving directions .But here’s where you left your keys. Here the study gets interesting: MRI brain scans showed that, after a year on the exercise program, the aerobic exercise group’s hippocampus was about two percent bigger than it was when they started. If two percent doesn’t sound very impressive to you, consider it this way: this increase is equivalent to a reversal in age-related brain shrinkage of about one to two years, according to the researchers.
The researchers accounted for the astonishing results by speculating that exercise can promote neurogenesis, or the transformation of neural stem cells in the brain into mature, functioning neurons, and in fact seems to speed up the whole process. So, what if you walked six days a week? Could you grow your brain even bigger and smarter?
The researchers don’t have a definitive answer for that question. They did find that older people who walked between six and nine miles a week showed significantly less decrease in brain volume over nine years than couch potatoes, but walking more than that didn’t seem to increase brain volume any more. Your hippocampus shrinks by about one percent to two percent a year, so get outside and go for a walk and re-grow those neurons in your brain!
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