Kick Your Memory, Literally

Physical activity immediately improves brain function

Woman doing yoga

Woman doing yoga

People who include a little yoga or tai chi in their day may be more likely to remember where they put their keys.

Even very light workouts can increase the connectivity between parts of the brain responsible for memory formation and storage, say researchers from the University of California, Irvine and Japan’s University of Tsukuba in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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36 young adults did a single 10-minute period of mild exertion. 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,” says project co-leader Michael Yassa, UCI professor and Chancellor’s Fellow of neurobiology & behavior. “Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”

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A little bit of physical activity can go a long way, Yassa stressed. “It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits—by monitoring the number of steps they're taking, for example. Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

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