Exercise and Improved Memory

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, exercise was found to be beneficial for mental health as well as heart health. The study also found other benefits of exercise, including a reduction in stress signals in the brain, which leads to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a cardiologist at Mass General Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and lead researcher of the study, told CNN Health, “Individuals who exercise more had a graded reduction in stress related signals in the brain. We found nice associations that exercise appeared to, in part, reduce heart disease risks by decreasing stress-related signals.”

Dr Takawol. added to CNN Health team:

  • “Surprisingly, we additionally found a greater than twofold increase in benefits of exercise among individuals who are depressed versus individuals who don’t have depression or don’t have a history of depression”.
  • “The relationship between amount of exercise and decrease in the level of cardiovascular risk also varied depending on whether a person had a history of depression”.
  • “For people without any history of depression, the benefit of exercise on cardiovascular disease reduction plateaued after about 300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. But for people with depression, the benefits continued with more time spent”.

We know depression is an important risk factor for heart disease and it is also one of the most common stress-related conditions.

Even though some people may be more susceptible to stress and its health consequences, here we see they may also stand to benefit more from exercise and its stress-modulating effects. Which is encouraging

– Dr. Karmel Choi, clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (source: CNN Health)

This article from 2020 Prevention, recommends the following five natural ways to help improve memories:

  • Try to remember before Googling. “The brain is a use-it-or-lose-it machine,” told Sara Mednick, Ph.D., an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. “Work through it and trust that your brain knows the answer—you just need to find it in there. Similarly, try to make your way to a new address without using Google Maps—or if that’s too daunting, take a new route home from work. It’s all about not living in automatic mode. The more you think things through or try novel approaches, the more you engage your brain to keep it healthier longer.”
  • Take a nap. “Quality restful sleep is non­negotiable when it comes to thinking fast on your feet. As we progress from slow-wave sleep in the first part of the night to REM sleep in the early morning hours, our memories transform the material we learned throughout the day into actual working knowledge. Mednick told, “When we nap in the middle of the day, our time in each stage is more efficient. In a 90-minute nap, you cycle through both slow-wave and REM sleep, but you do it in the same proportion as it occurs across a whole night of sleep. Because of this, a 90-minute nap can rival what you’d get overnight in terms of memory consolidation, creativity, and productivity.”
  • Get exercise every day. Gary W. Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Longevity Center and the author of 2 Weeks to a Younger Brain, told “Blood is filled with oxygen and nutrients that feed our brains. Exercise also spurs the body to produce a protein that acts like fertilizer for the brain, stimulating neurons to sprout branches so they can communicate more effectively .”
  • Don’t multitask so much. “The brain is not designed to focus on several tasks at once. As a result, our brains feel stressed when we multi­task, and we make more errors, which has the ultimate effect of making us less efficient,” Dr. Small says.
  • Eat for your brain.Nutrition has a striking impact on your day-to-day memory and focus, shaping your ability to retain information and more. Naturally occurring free radicals are constantly forming in the brain over the course of day-to-day living. If allowed to linger, “they act like rust, causing your neurons to age faster,” says Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
    • Berries and beets: “Berries are bursting with anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds with a unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning things in those raspberries actually enter your brain, grab free radicals, and escort them out ‘like police officers trapping the bad guys‘ ,” says Mosconi.
    • Turmeric: “This spice is rich in curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory substance. In a small study, people without dementia who took 90 mg of it twice a day showed better memory and attention compared with those who took a placebo. “Curcumin might be one reason why people who eat a lot of Indian food or spicy curries tend to perform better on cognitive tests than those who don’t, and why rates of Alzheimer’s are lower in India than in the U.S.,” says Dr. Small, lead researcher of the study.

Links between Brain and Heart Health

Some lifestyle changes may also affect our brain health, such as dementia. Joel Kramer, Psy.D., director of the University of California San Francisco Memory and Aging Neuropsychology program, told the Prevention, “perhaps a third of all dementia may be associated with modifiable risk factors”.

  • Cardiovascular disease: “Conditions that affect your heart also affect your brain’s ability to function optimally,” Kramer says.
  • High blood sugar levels: Dementia risk increases in people with type 2 diabetes (some doctors are even referring to AD as “type 3 diabetes”), but even non-diabetics with elevated blood sugar levels may be at increased risk for cognitive decline, possibly because of sugar’s inflammatory effects on the brain.
  • Loneliness: Brain health is compromised by social isolation. “It’s very stressful to feel alone. And stress is toxic to the brain and body,” Mednick says. To expand your connections, try volunteering or signing up for a class. Invite someone to dinner: It fosters conversation and a sense of closeness, both of which relieve inflammation-inducing stress.

Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, told CNN Health, “It turns out human beings were designed to move and move a lot, and when we do — particularly when we are outside and amongst trees — there’s been data to suggest these all have very significant stress-relieving effects. If you don’t enjoy walking or biking or swimming or whatever it is, don’t do it. But figure out a way to get a physical activity in that you truly enjoy.”

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