The New York Times: How Exercise Affects Our Memory
A New York Times article published on May 1, 2019 featured research from J. Carson Smith, an associate professor of kinesiology, that demonstrated that a single workout can increase activity in areas of the brain associated with memory.
Previous research has shown that exercise can improve memory and other brain processes over sustained periods of time, the Times reports. A study Smith conducted in 2013 showed that a 12-week exercise regimen increased the efficiency of areas of the brain associated with semantic memory — the term for our long-term store of cultural information and other facts. But little is known about how those gains in efficiency accrue over time and how long that process takes.
That’s what Smith’s new study sought to investigate. He and his team had participants complete a moderate-intensity exercise before conducting a memory test requiring them to identify names of celebrities. In participants who had exercised beforehand, the researchers found more activity in the brain regions associated with semantic memory than in participants who engaged in a period of rest.
The researchers posit that the increased brain activity is the first step in the process of improving memory efficiency: Like it does for the rest of the body, exercise strains the brain, which eventually helps it become leaner and fitter.
“There is an analogy to what happens with muscles,” Smith told the Times.
Smith’s research focuses on how exercise and physical activity affect human brain function and mental health. He directs the Exercise for Brain Health Laboratory at the School of Public Health.
The study, “Semantic Memory Activation After Acute Exercise in Healthy Older Adults,” was published this month in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.