Exercise helps older adults preserve their memories: studying

February 17, 2022 6:14 p.m IS

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) [US], February 17 (ANI): It is a well known fact that exercise is good for health. But many questions plague people when it comes to exercise. How much exercise is beneficial? Who benefits most from it? And when is it most beneficial? New research led by University of Pittsburgh psychologists has pooled data from dozens of studies to answer these questions.
The study, published in the journal Communications Medicine, showed that older adults may be able to prevent a certain type of memory from declining by sticking to regular exercise.
“Everyone always asks, ‘How much should I exercise? ‘What is the bare minimum to see improvement?'” said lead author Sarah Aghjayan, a doctoral student in clinical and biological health psychology at the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Sciences. “Our study suggests that to reap the benefits of episodic memory, you need to exercise about three times a week for at least four months.”
Episodic memory deals with events that happened to you in the past. It is also one of the first to decrease with age. “I usually like to talk about how you first got behind the wheel of a car,” Aghjayan said. “So you might remember where you were, how old you were, who was in the passenger seat explaining things to you, that sense of excitement.”
Exercise that gets the heart pumping has shown promise for improving brain health, and experiments on mice show it improves memory – but studies looking at the same link in humans have been mixed.
Searching for clarity in the muddy waters of scientific literature, the team combed through 1,279 studies, eventually narrowing them down to just 36 that met certain criteria. Then they used specialized software and a fair number of Excel spreadsheets to transform the data into a form in which the different studies could be directly compared.

That work paid off when they found that pooling these 36 studies together was enough to show that older adults’ memory can indeed benefit from exercise. The team included Aghjayan’s Psychology Department advisor Kirk Erickson and other researchers from Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Iowa.
Previous analyzes looking at links between movement and memory found none, but Aghjayan and her team took several additional steps to have the best chance of finding a link, if one existed. They limited their search to certain groups and ages, and to a certain type of rigorous experimental design. Another key was to specifically focus on episodic memory, which is aided by a part of the brain known to benefit from exercise.
“If we combine and pull together all of this data, we can study almost 3,000 participants,” Aghjayan said. “Each individual study is very important: they all make a meaningful contribution to science.” However, individual studies may not find patterns that actually exist because of a lack of resources to conduct a large enough experiment. The individual studies failed to find any association between movement and memory — it took a look at the entire body of research to bring the pattern into focus.
With this much larger sample of participants, the team was able to show a connection between movement and episodic memory, but also answer more specific questions about who benefits and how.
“We found that memory improves more in 55-68 year olds than in 69-85 year olds – so it’s better to intervene earlier,” Aghjayan said. The team also found the greatest effects of exercise in those who had not yet experienced cognitive decline and in studies where participants exercised consistently several times a week.
There were still questions that needed to be answered. The team’s analysis could not answer how exercise intensity affected memory benefits, and there was much to be learned about the mechanism behind the connection. But the public health implications are clear: Exercise is an accessible way older adults can stave off memory loss, benefiting themselves, their caregivers and the healthcare system, Aghjayan said.
“All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and you can get out there and move your body,” Aghjayan concluded. (ANI)