Researchers found that increased exercise can help improve memory in older adults by enlarging the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is essential to learning and storing memories, according to a recent study by the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study included 120 sedentary adults between the ages of 55 and 88 who had not been diagnosed with dementia. Half the group was assigned aerobic exercise in the form of walking for 40 minutes, 3 days a week for a year, while the other group was assigned stretching tasks such as yoga, hand weights and resistance exercises.
The aerobic group saw a 2 percent increase in the volume of their hippocampus, but the stretching group saw a more than one percent decline in theirs. Members of the aerobic group also had higher levels of a certain molecule linked to memory and learning, and had better performance on memory tests from the beginning of the study.
A significant potential effect of these results is the implication they may have for Alzheimer's disease research. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and can leave some patients unable to make important end-of-life decisions. Experts recommend that those developing early symptoms of the disease organize preparations such as life insurance policies and advance directives, while they are clearly able to make decisions.