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Strengthening Your Semantic Memory Through Aerobic Exercise

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. In fact, approximately 45% of millennials work out regularly. From a simple 30-minute walk to the strength building exercise that weight lifters undergo, your body only gets stronger and healthier the more active you are. Now, it seems that your memory might as well.

A new study published by the University of Maryland has connected aerobic exercise to semantic memory; lead author Carson Smith, who is an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in Baltimore, and his UMB colleagues used fMRI neuroimaging to monitor the brain activity of study participants (ages 55 to 85) and their ability to perform a simple memory task.

Semantic memory has to do with facts, meanings, concepts, and knowledge about the external world that we have acquired throughout our lives; it is concerned with general factual knowledge that is shared with others and independent of personal experience. For their tasks, the study’s participants were asked to identify famous names on two separate days. The first day included a 30-minute session of moderate intensity cycling on a stationary bike, while the second day required patients to sit in a waiting room for 30 minutes prior to their test. The final result revealed that participants were able to remember more names after their 30 minutes of activity.

“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,” Smith said.

Considering the fact that only 53% of adults aged 18 and older met the CDC’s guidelines for aerobic physical activity — and the fact that one in nine adults over the age of 45 experience issues with their memory — this study may have found a way to reduce the latter by increasing the former. The study’s conclusion supported this idea.

“Coupled with our prior exercise training effects on semantic memory-related activation, these data suggest the acute increase in neural activation after exercise may provide a stimulus for adaptation over repeated exercise sessions.”

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