Can Exercise Help Preserve Your Memories?


Alzheimer’s is a particularly nasty disease. It robs you of your memories – arguably your most valuable accumulation in life. Anyone who has seen the movie the Notebook or even worse had a relative befall it can attest to the sadness it brings. My own grandmother had Alzheimer’s and it was tragic seeing her slip away right before our eyes.

So I’m always interested in any research that shows promise at reducing the Alzheimer’s risk. Recently, I started reading Brain Rules by John Medina. In his book, Medina attempts to condense the latest brain research into a set of rules for improving your life.

After looking across the vast swath of existing research, his number 1 rule is Exercise Boosts Brain Power:

Is there one factor that predicts how well you will age? It was never an easy question for researchers to answer. They found many variables, from nature to nurture, that contributed to someone’s ability to age gracefully. That’s why the scientific community met with both applause and suspicion a group of researchers who uncovered a powerful environmental influence….one of the greatest predictors of successful aging was the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle (emphasis added).

And by “aging well”, he goes on to describe what exactly that means. Not only were the elderly that exercised more mentally alert than their couch potato brethren, but they out-performed them on nearly every mental test as well. In regard to Alzheimer’s they noticed the largest effect:

[T]he results are clear. Your lifetime risk for general dementia is literally cut in half if you participate in leisure-time physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise lowers your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent (emphasis added).

Wow! I’d always known that exercising had benefits for the body, but who knew that it could improve the mind as well? According to studies explained in the book, the benefit appears to come from increased blood flow to the brain. Whatever the reasons it is ample evidence to make exercise a priority. With that in mind, here are my favorite tips on how to incorporate exercise into your routine:

  • Start Small: Working out can seem overwhelming especially if you have not done it in a while. By starting small, you can ease into it and eliminate the most common excuses like lack of time. The research even shows that adding just two 20 minute cardio workouts a week provides benefits
  • Create a schedule: When I was training for my marathon, the most useful technique for me to stay on track was to create a schedule and then commit myself to it. That way I knew every Sunday would be my long run and I could plan for it.
  • 30-Day Trial: Commit to doing it for 30 days. By timeboxing it, the task becomes more manageable and easier to commit to.
  • Focus on Benefits: Like much else, exercise is what you make of it. You can either focus on the pain or think about how much better you’ll look and feel afterwards.

And by making it a habit now, your brain will thank you later :)

Exercise is done against one’s wishes and maintained only because the alternative is worse.

-George Sheehan (physician, author and running enthusiast)