We generally think of the phrase “use it or lose it” with reference to muscle strength, spelling ability, sports skills, or professional knowledge, but new research is showing a cross-linkage between exercise and memory. Researchers are discovering that if you don’t use your muscles, you’ll not only lose strength but you are also impairing your memory capacity at the same time.
Scientists at Kings College London studied 324 female twins over the course of ten years and found that those who had the strongest legs at the start of the study had better mental skills a decade later than their less fit siblings. Indeed, according to lead researcher Claire Steves, leg power had a stronger correlation with thinking, learning and memory skills than any other lifestyle factor.
Another recent study that followed men and women aged 60 to 80 over the course of a year found that a short walk three times a week was correlated with size increases in the regions of the brain linked to planning and memory.
While researchers haven’t determined all of the mechanisms by which exercise impacts mental health there are several theories that help explain the correlation. Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. Other studies have found that when you use your muscles, they release hormones that can encourage nerve cells to grow, strengthening connections within the brain. Another theory has been that regularly increasing the flow of oxygen rich blood through physical activity helps prevent the build-up of the proteins which cause Alzheimer’s.
Our Community Crier social software helps residents of retirement communities, and independent and assisted living communities stay fit by connecting them to opportunities to get active where they live, whether it’s an aerobics class, the Saturday afternoon swing dance or a walking group in their community. With seamless event registration, reminders, and the ability to see who else is coming and to invite friends, we remove many of the barriers to participation that keep seniors at home.
Dr. Claire Steves’ research paper on leg strength in Gerentology
Dr. Kirk Erickson’s paper on exercise and hippocampus growth
More information on exercise and hormones
Research on Blood flow and proteins