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Even Mild Physical Activity Immediately Improves Memory Function

Summary: A new study reports participating in light physical activity, such as yoga or tai chi, can help to increase connectivity between brain areas responsible for memory formation and storage.

Source: UC Irvine.

People who include a little yoga or tai chi in their day may be more likely to remember where they put their keys. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine and Japan’s University of Tsukuba found that even very light workouts can increase the connectivity between parts of the brain responsible for memory formation and storage.

In a study of 36 healthy young adults, the researchers discovered that a single 10-minute period of mild exertion can yield considerable cognitive benefits. Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, the team examined subjects’ brains shortly after exercise sessions and saw better connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas linked to detailed memory processing.

Their results were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories; it’s one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older – and much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” said project co-leader Michael Yassa, UCI professor and Chancellor’s Fellow of neurobiology & behavior. “Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”

The neuroscientists found that the level of heightened connectivity predicted the degree of recall enhancement.

Yassa, director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the recently launched UCI Brain Initiative, said that while prior research has centered on the way exercise promotes the generation of new brain cells in memory regions, this new study demonstrates a more immediate impact: strengthened communication between memory-focused parts of the brain.

“We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold,” he said. “What we observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterward.”

a woman in a yoga pose

The neuroscientists found that the level of heightened connectivity predicted the degree of recall enhancement. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

A little bit of physical activity can go a long way, Yassa stressed. “It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits – by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example,” he said. “Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

Yassa and his colleagues at UCI and at the University of Tsukuba are extending this avenue of research by testing older adults who are at greater risk of age-related mental impairment and by conducting long-term interventions to see if regular, brief, light exercise done daily for several weeks or months can have a positive impact on the brain’s structure and function in these subjects.

“Clearly, there is tremendous value to understanding the exercise prescription that best works in the elderly so that we can make recommendations for staving off cognitive decline,” he said.

About this neuroscience research article

Data collection for this project took place in Japan, and the analysis was carried out in both Japan and Irvine. The study was led by Yassa and Hideaki Soya, professor of health and sport sciences at the University of Tsukuba. Joint first authors on the paper are Kazuya Suwabe and Kyeongho Byun of the University of Tsukuba.

Funding: The work was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Source: Brian Bell – UC Irvine
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Rapid stimulation of human dentate gyrus function with acute mild exercise” by Kazuya Suwabe, Kyeongho Byun, Kazuki Hyodo, Zachariah M. Reagh, Jared M. Roberts, Akira Matsushita, Kousaku Saotome, Genta Ochi, Takemune Fukuie, Kenji Suzuki, Yoshiyuki Sankai, Michael A. Yassa, and Hideaki Soya in PNAS. Published September 24 2018.
doi:10.1073/pnas.1805668115

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
UC Irvine”Even Mild Physical Activity Immediately Improves Memory Function.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 25 September 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/mild-activity-memory-function-9909/>.
UC Irvine(2018, September 25). Even Mild Physical Activity Immediately Improves Memory Function. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved September 25, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/mild-activity-memory-function-9909/
UC Irvine”Even Mild Physical Activity Immediately Improves Memory Function.” http://neurosciencenews.com/mild-activity-memory-function-9909/ (accessed September 25, 2018).

Abstract

Rapid stimulation of human dentate gyrus function with acute mild exercise

Physical exercise has beneficial effects on neurocognitive function, including hippocampus-dependent episodic memory. Exercise intensity level can be assessed according to whether it induces a stress response; the most effective exercise for improving hippocampal function remains unclear. Our prior work using a special treadmill running model in animals has shown that stress-free mild exercise increases hippocampal neuronal activity and promotes adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus, improving spatial memory performance. However, the rapid modification, from mild exercise, on hippocampal memory function and the exact mechanisms for these changes, in particular the impact on pattern separation acting in the DG and CA3 regions, are yet to be elucidated. To this end, we adopted an acute-exercise design in humans, coupled with high-resolution functional MRI techniques, capable of resolving hippocampal subfields. A single 10-min bout of very light-intensity exercise (30%V˙O2peak) results in rapid enhancement in pattern separation and an increase in functional connectivity between hippocampal DG/CA3 and cortical regions (i.e., parahippocampal, angular, and fusiform gyri). Importantly, the magnitude of the enhanced functional connectivity predicted the extent of memory improvement at an individual subject level. These results suggest that brief, very light exercise rapidly enhances hippocampal memory function, possibly by increasing DG/CA3−neocortical functional connectivity.

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