A Gym for Your Memory

19 September, 2012

Take a walk, go for a bike ride, hit the gym. Exercise makes extra space in the "scratch pad" part of your brain, also known as your working memory. It's where you jot down bits of information that you need to act on immediately, such as which street to turn onto or what the chef's daily specials are.

How much activity will do the memory-sharpening trick? It depends on what you do and how often. If you're an easy-does-it kind of exerciser, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity (brisk walking is fine) on most days of the week. However, if you prefer to push yourself -- swimming laps, lifting weights, tearing it up on a rowing machine -- three 20-minute sessions a week are all it takes. Researchers recently found that doing just this much increased working memory in a group of young adults. The reason isn't totally clear. It may simply be that exercise increases nourishing blood flow to the brain, but regular workouts also may alter brain structures in beneficial ways. In any event, you may not care why, as long as you can remember all those little things you've been trying not to forget.

SOURCES: The relationship between working memory capacity and physical activity rates in young adults. Lambourne, K., Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 2006 5;149-153.

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