Can physical activity enhance memory skills?

Physical activity is known to have many health benefits, like keeping you fit, making your heart work better or even reducing your cholesterol and chances to get diabetes. A new study adds a new health benefit to physical activity, such as the development of new cells in the brain, which play an important role for your memory and learning process.

The researchers found that older adults who took more steps per day than their peers had better cognitive performance. The association between the number of steps taken and memory was strongest with a task that involved matching a person's face with their name, which older adults typically have a problem recalling. In young adults, the number of steps taken was not associated with memory performance.

According to the researchers these findings demonstrate that the effects of physical activity extend to long-term memory – which can have positive implications for the fight against memory decline brought on by neurodegenerative dementias, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers conducted their study with 29 young adults (aged 18-31) and 31 older adults (aged 55-82). They all had to wear a small device that recorded information on how many steps they took, how vigorous the steps were and how much time was involved. Participants also completed neuropsychological testing to assess their memory, planning and problem-solving abilities. They also engaged in a laboratory task in which they had to learn face-name associations.

The findings are promising, but the authors pointed out that more research is needed to explore the mechanisms of how physical activity may positively impact brain structure and function as well as to clarify the impact of specific exercise programs.

They also stressed that staying physically active can take a variety of forms from formal exercise programs to small changes, such as walking or taking the stairs....