A gray cell training
Two new experiments, one involving people and other animals, suggest that regular exercise can substantially improve memory, despite the different types of exercise seem to affect the brain very differently. The news may provide comfort for the growing number of us who are entering the age groups most at risk of cognitive impairment.
It was in the 1990s that scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, first discovered that exercise bulks up the brain.
In innovative experiments showed that mice that have access to bearing wheels produce many more cells in an area of the brain that controls memory creation of animals that do not run. Exercised animals then performed better on memory tests than their sedentary labmates.
Since then, scientists have been working to understand precisely how, at the molecular level, exercise improves memory and whether all types of exercise such as weight training, are beneficial.
The new studies provide some additional clarity and inspiring about these issues and also, incidentally, about how you can get the lab rats for the weight of the train.
For the human study, published in the Journal of Aging Research, scientists at the University of British Columbia recruited dozens of women aged 70-80 who had been found to have mild cognitive impairment, a condition that causes memory of a person and more muddled thinking expected at a given age.
Mild cognitive impairment is a recognized risk factor for dementia increased. Seniors with the condition of developing Alzheimer’s disease at rates much higher than those of the same age with sharper memories.
Earlier, the same group of researchers found that after weight training, older women with mild cognitive impairment improved associative memory, or the ability to remember things in context the name of an alien and how it introduced, for example.
Now, the scientists wanted to see most essential types of memory, and also resistance exercise. So were randomly assigned volunteers to six months of supervised exercise. Some of the women lifted weights twice a week. Others walked quickly. And some, as a control measure, jump resistance exercise and instead stretched and toned.
At the beginning and end of the six months, the women completed a battery of tests designed to study the verbal and spatial memory. Verbal memory is, among other things, their ability to remember words and spatial memory is the memory of where things once were placed in space. Both deteriorates over time, a loss that is exaggerated in people with mild cognitive impairment.
And in this study, after six months, women toning group scored worse on memory tests than those at baseline. Their cognitive impairment had grown.
However, women who had exercised, either walking or weight training, performed better in almost all cognitive tests after six months than they had before.
There were, however, differences. Although both exercise groups improved almost equally in spatial memory tests, women who had walked showed greater gains in verbal memory than women who lifted weights.
What these results suggest, the authors conclude, is that resistance training and weight training can have different physiological effects on the brain and cause improvements in different types of memory.
This idea roughly coincides well with the results of another recent study of exercise and memory, in which rats ran or wheeled or lifted weights. After six weeks, the animals of both exercise groups scored better on memory tests than they did before they trained. But it was what was happening in their bodies and brains that was revealing.
What all this new research suggests, says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, associate professor at the Center for Brain Research, University of British Columbia, who oversaw the experiments with older women, health is more robust brain is probably advisable to incorporate aerobic and resistance training.
It seems that every type of exercise “selectively targets different aspects of cognition,” she says, probably causing the release of different proteins in the body and brain.