Staying fit can give you a bigger brain that works better

July 7, 2009
Volume 06    |   Issue 29

When I turned 65, I realized that my days as a couch potato who loved nothing more than reading one book after another were over. I had to exercise, whether or not I wanted to. And, I admit, I didn’t. Still, I joined a gym and got myself there regularly.

Now, more than five years later, I still take stretch and Pilates classes four or five times a week. Sometimes I even use the machines and free weights, as well. And, of course, I go for walks in the country with friends. Exercise is no longer optional.

My reasons for exercising initially included flexibility, balance, and keeping my heart healthy. It didn’t occur to me at that time that exercise could have a major effect on my memory. Now I know it does. And it can help yours too.

The reason is simple. Our brains shrink as we get older. And this shrinkage coincides with age-related memory problems. One area of the brain, the hippocampus, is essential to memory formation and recall. It also governs spatial navigation.

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In the past, there were animal studies that found exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. But human studies are far more accurate. Recently, the first human study found that being fit increases the size of the hippocampus in people. It also has a positive effect on memory.

“Basically, if you stay fit, you retain key regions of your brain involved in learning and memory,” says psychology professor Art Kramer, one of the lead researchers in this study. What’s more, reduced spatial memory can cost you your independence if you can’t drive or find your way around your neighborhood supermarket.

It’s time to stop the excuses and find a way to exercise at least four days a week. You don’t have to join a gym. You can garden, walk, or get one or two videos to work out with. Do it on your own or do it with a friend. But exercise and keep your brain young.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Hippocampus, 2009.

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