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Just 10 minutes of daily exercise could give you a memory boost

Brain vs brawl is one of the classic dichotomies of our culture. You have the Neanderthalic jocks and the nerds who are poindexters but not dexterous, usually at odds with each other in a David vs Goliath battle. But modern scientific research tells a different story, one of physical and mental health/performance being united as comrades with improvements in one helping the other (it’s almost as if your brain is part of the body and reliant on it for its function).

New research from the University of California has discovered that 10 minutes of light exercise can improve memory retention. The study consisted of 36 healthy adults (in their early 20s) doing light exercises that required 30% of the person’s peak oxygen intake, including slow walking and yoga. They were then given memory tests, which was compared to volunteers who hadn’t exercised. Identical experiments were then conducted to 16 volunteers and their brains were scanned for neural activity.

New research from the University of California has discovered that 10 minutes of light exercise can improve memory retention

Their results showed volunteers were much better at distinguishing between different memories that co-leader Michael Yassa described as challenging. They would use everyday items like broccoli and picnic baskets to test their ability to recall details from similar looking pictures. Consequently, increased connectivity between the hippocampus that is necessary for memory storage and the cortical regions known to support memory processing and recollection was observed. Previous research has emphasised the neuro-regenerative qualities of exercise. Whilst that could be a contributing factor, the instantaneous impact suggests it’s less likely and the study focuses on the strengthened communication.

The 10-minute rule isn’t ironclad, with the recommended time and type of exercise varying based on a person’s age, lifestyle and mobility. The research has inspired the team to integrate this insight into their own lives. Yassa says lab meetings have become lab walks and short walks every two hours are encouraged, leading to similar results of increased productivity and happiness. With more people using apps and watches to track the number of steps they walk this could explain why people have become more conscientious over light exercise.

Lab meetings have become lab walks and short walks every two hours are encouraged, leading to similar results of increased productivity and happiness

However, the implications don’t end at more exciting meetings at work. Yassa and the team are now studying the impact of light exercise on older people in a longer timeframe. Yassa states that the hippocampus is “one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older — and much more severely in Alzheimer’s” and wants to understand its therapeutic potential against neurodegenerative diseases.

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