A single moderate workout may have immediate effects on the brain, according to a new study looking at exercise and memory.
While numerous studies have shown a positive connection between exercise and cognitive health, this study showed immediate changes in the brain after one session of moderate activity.
“The present study suggests that an acute bout of exercise is associated with an increase in semantic memory activation compared to rest when measured approximately 30 minutes after the exercise has ended,” said Dr. Grazyna Pomorska, MD, a neurologist with Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Mass.
Exercise effects what’s called “semantic memory,” part of the long-term memory responsible for processing ideas and concepts not drawn from our personal experience.
“Greater brain activation following a single session of exercise suggests that exercise may increase neural processes underlying semantic memory activation in healthy older adults,” the study concluded.
Researchers studied 26 participants, ages 55 to 85, without memory problems. Participants visited the lab twice, where they would either ride an exercise bike for 30 minutes or rest quietly before getting inside an MRI and identifying famous people. Researchers say more brain activity was seen in those who exercised ahead of the MRI.
In a New York Times article, J. Carson Smith, an Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Director of the Exercise for Brain Health Laboratory at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, likened the unexpected increase in brain activity to a muscle straining when someone first starts working out.
As the person gets in better shape, the muscle becomes more efficient at executing the activity, which means there is a decrease in semantic activation after exercise becomes more efficient.
Brain activation after a single exercise may trigger processes that with repetitive exercise may lead to remodeling and adaptation resulting in cognitive enhancement. Exercise over time increases the volume of the hippocampus, Pomorksa said, a key part of the brain’s memory networks.
“Exercise promotes neurogenesis, growth, and proliferation of neurons responsible for cognitive enhancement,” Pomorska said.
For more information on memory and links to exercise, speak with your health care provider.