ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland: Study Shows Exercises Flexes Memory Networks in Older Adults

How quickly do we reap the benefits of exercise? A new study of healthy older adults shows that just one session of exercise increased activation in the brain circuits associated with memory – including the hippocampus, which shrinks with age and is the first victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

“While it has been shown that regular exercise can increase the volume of the hippocampus, our study provides new information that acute exercise has the ability to impact this important brain region,” said Dr. J. Carson Smith, an associate professor of kinesiology in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.

The study is published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

Dr. Smith’s team measured the brain activity of healthy older adults while performing a memory task involving identifying famous and non-famous names. The task activates a neural network related to semantic memory, which is known to deteriorate with memory loss.

The test was conducted after moderately intense exercise and again after rest. When performing the task after exercise, participants showed greater activation in multiple regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, than they did after rest.

“Just like a muscle adapts to repeated use, single sessions of exercise may flex cognitive neural networks in ways that promote adaptations over time and lend to increased network integrity and function and allow more efficient access to memories,” Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Smith’s ongoing research, funded by the National Institute of Aging, examines the cognitive benefits of a months-long exercise program for older adults at increased risk for Alzheimer’s. His previous research has shown that exercise protects against age-related decline.