Can exercise help to boost your memory?

Struggling to remember? Get moving with this memory technique!

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Health Advisor

12 April 2018

Exercise and your memory

There are a number of ways that exercise can benefit our memory. Firstly, exercise has the ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation whilst increasing the production of growth hormones. These chemicals affect the health of existing brain cells, the survival of new brain cells and new blood vessels in the brain. Physiologically, exercise increases the amount of oxygen in your brain which enhances the effects of helpful brain chemicals and reduces stress hormones.

What’s more, exercising right after learning could also help to improve memory according to a study published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.1 Exercising whilst trying to revise, learn or remember is also thought to be beneficial for our memory – as long as we don’t physically exert ourselves too much as this places too much stress on the body making it more difficult to concentrate.

Exercising has a range of mental benefits in addition to enhancing our memory including:

• Improving our concentration

• Improving your mood and mental health

• Fuelling our creativity

• Keeping our brain healthy as we age

• Helping us to sleep better

• Supporting our brain functioning

These benefits are backed up by science

A study published in the Natural Medicine Journal investigated the effects of memory in 95 young adults aged 17-30. Participants completed 6 weeks of either exercise training, combined exercise and cognitive training or no training at all (to serve as the control group). Those in the exercise groups were required to partake in 20 minutes of high-intensity training 3 times a week for 6 weeks. The cognitive training consisted of 20 minutes of a computerised concentration memory task that also took place 3 times a week for the 6 weeks.

Oxygen consumption was measured to prove that exercise training improved aerobic fitness. Blood samples were also taken to measure levels of serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and serum insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) to measure neurotrophic factors. A memory test was also used to measure the influence of exercise on memory.

The results of the study found that both the exercise-only and combined exercise and cognitive training groups had better memory performance than the control group. The study also found that levels of serum BDNF and IGF-1 increased significantly in the individuals who showed a larger response to aerobic exercise training.

The study suggests that the improvement in memory performance may be due to increases in neurotrophic factors IGF-1 and BDNF, as well as due to improvements in aerobic fitness. This is because IGF-1 and BDNF are both known to influence neurogenesis (the growth and development of nervous tissue in the brain) and plasticity (the brain’s ability to change throughout life by forming new neural connections) through similar signalling pathways. 

BDNF helps the brain to develop new connections, repair failing brain cells and protect healthy brain cells. IGF-1 plays an important part in the development of new blood cells and is believed to play a role in increasing the production of BDNF in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory and learning. The findings of this research suggest that exercising regularly increases levels of neurotrophic factors BDNF and IGF-1 which, in turn, could help to support and improve our memory.2

What’s the catch?

Although this study demonstrates extremely promising results, the type, intensity and frequency of exercise are factors that should be considered. This is in line with findings from the Harvard Medical School who suggest that although regular aerobic exercise could boost the size of the hippocampus, resistance training, muscle toning and balance did not have the same results.3 Despite this though, the results definitely show beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on our memory, which can be extremely beneficial for supporting and keeping our brain young and healthy as we age.

So, what next?

So, we’ve looked at all the reasons that exercise can be beneficial for our memory and hopefully all the research has convinced you that keeping active is definitely a worthwhile endeavour! But, what if you want to get stuck in but aren’t sure where to start? Don’t worry! Here at A.Vogel we have a wealth of information on how you can keep active – from getting started, to injury recovery, to motivation and diet. We believe that exercise should be accessible as well as fun and getting started could be easier than you think. 

Aerobic exercise may sound a little daunting, but actually, any activity that gets your heart pumping can count! Activities like gardening or brisk walking may not seem like exercise but you could still be helping to boost your memory! Alternatively, why not investigate our beginners guide to running? Our easy how-to guide contains a range of handy tips and information that can help you to get your running shoes on!


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