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Exercise helps preserve memory, even in the elderly

Exercise helps preserve memory, even in the elderly

March 14, 2022
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How much physical exercise to practice to see the first health benefits? And what kind of physical activity should you prefer? Today, we know the answers to these questions, at least as far as the benefits on the brain and memory are concerned. In fact, a very recent study published in the Communications medicine journal thanks to the work of an American team from the University of Pittsburgh, (Aghjayan et al, Communications medicine, 2022), highlighted the importance of aerobic physical activity and allowed to understand the frequency with which to practice it to significantly improve cognitive function.

Aerobic physical activity protects the brain

Doctors are often asked the question, how much physical activity should I practice to see any benefits? To answer this question, the Pittsburgh researchers collected and compared the results of 36 scientific studies. And they managed to find an answer, at least as far as episodic memory is concerned. Episodic memory is the type of memory that allows you to recall memories of past events. It is also the first to deteriorate with the natural decline of cognitive function with age. Suffice it to say that it can happen to observe problems in episodic memory already after the age of 45. This is because episodic memory is partly governed by the hypothalamus, which is the first part of the brain that undergoes alterations with the passing years. Previous studies had seen a general improvement in cognitive function linked to the habit of regularly practicing aerobic activity. Aerobic activity is any type of low-intensity but long-lasting physical exercise, such as brisk walking, light jogging, swimming or cycling. In particular, it was possible to observe how aerobic activity can improve brain health indicators, which normally worsen with age and are used to assess the risk of developing Alzheimer's. However, the results to date were unclear, especially with regards to episodic memory.

Moderate physical activity is enough to improve memory

According to the research of scientists from Pittsburgh, however, it is clear that practicing aerobic physical activity an hour and a half three times a week for at least 4 months allows you to significantly improve episodic memory. Not only that, it was possible to observe that the greatest benefits were observed in the age group between 55 and 68 years, just when the first signs of deterioration of episodic memory begin to appear.


The study has several limitations, in fact it did not investigate the role of the intensity of physical exercise, but only its duration. In addition, the study was unable to explain the mechanism that allows an improvement in episodic memory. It is hypothesized an increase in blood flow to the brain thanks to the increase in heartbeat, but it has yet to be proven. However, the research has the merit of emphasizing once again the importance of moderate physical activity, at all ages, not only to keep body weight under control and improve mood, but also to protect brain health.

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