We joke and call them "senior moments," but it's not funny when you can't remember a word, a person's name or where you put your keys.
The solution? Go take a walk. When seniors regularly took brisk walks for one year, an amazing thing happened: The hippocampus, the section of the brain that is involved in memory, actually grew in size, according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Typically, the hippocampus shrinks as we age.
The Associated Press reports that not only does aerobic exercise seem to reduce brain atrophy in early-stage Alzheimer's patients, but also leads to a slight improvement on mental tests among older people with memory problems.
The study: Some 120 sedentary people, ages 55 to 80, were randomly divided into two groups. Half began a program of walking for 40 minutes a day, three days a week to increase their heart rate, while the others did simple stretching and toning exercises.
The results: In the 60 walkers, the hippocampus, that region of the brain that is associated with memory, grew in size by about 2 percent, while it shrunk in the 60 people who just did the stretching and toning exercises. Researchers found there was some memory improvement in both groups, but in the aerobic exercise group, increased hippocampal volume was directly related to improvements in memory performance, notes AP.
"We think of the atrophy of the hippocampus in later life as almost inevitable," lead study author Kirk Erickson, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a statement. But it doesn't have to be that way. Even moderate amounts of exercise by sedentary adults can lead to substantial improvements in memory and brain health.
The study findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
--From the Editors at Netscape