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Exercise for a healthier body and brain

Memory decline is a common symptom of aging, and is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases. However, memory decline doesn’t have to be inevitable for aging adults. New findings published in the medical journal Cortex suggest that physical fitness may help seniors combat memory loss.

Researchers at Boston University Medical Center found that seniors (55-74 years) who had high levels of cardiovascular fitness performed better on memory tests than seniors with lower levels. Even when compared to less fit younger individuals (18-31 years), the fit seniors had higher memory function and more brain activity.

To measure cardiovascular fitness levels, researchers tracked inhaled and exhaled oxygen and carbon dioxide of participants walking and jogging on treadmills. To measure memory and brain functioning, researchers conducted MRI scans on participants while they were shown pictures of unfamiliar faces and asked to remember the corresponding names.

What do these findings mean for aging adults? The more cardiovascular fitness they incorporate into their lives, the better. Good examples include walking, jogging, swimming and dancing. Even seniors who currently have lower levels of cardiovascular fitness can start exercising more now and reap the benefits.

Researchers caution seniors against expecting exercise to cure memory-related disease; however, there is speculation that it may slow the decline of such diseases. More extensive studies are needed to test this hypothesis.  

Additional tips for slowing memory decline include:

  • Continue learning

Allow your brain to remain active. Take a class on an interesting topic, learn a new skill, read a book, write a story, do a jigsaw puzzle or crossword.

  • Engage your senses

Your brain remembers better when more senses are involved in the learning process. When trying a new food, don’t just taste—guess the ingredients aloud and note the different colors and textures you see.

  • Think positively

If you believe you can improve or slow the decline of your memory function, you’re more likely to engage in activities that will.

  • Use your brain wisely

Your memory is needed for the important details, like what’s going on in the lives of friends and family. For minor details, like appointments and location of your car keys, use notes and calendars to keep track.

  • Use repetition

Repeat new information aloud or write it down. This will reinforce the connections in your brain.

  • Space out new information

If you digest new information slowly, there’s a stronger chance you’ll remember it all later.

This is another trick for remembering the big and small details!