If you’re a fan of aerobic exercise (activities that boost your cardio and endurance) such as walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, etc. there’s good news: not only is aerobic exercise a good way to get some physical activity, but it also helps to keep your memory sharp as you age.
White matter — the tissue in the brain that messages pass through — can remodel itself when people are active, according to a multi-institutional study led by Colorado State University. If you’re someone who doesn’t move around a lot, your white matter could shrink and is more prone to fraying.
Researchers looked at 250 individuals over the age of 60 who did not engage in much physical activity, but who otherwise had no other health issues. They took MRI scans of their brains to assess the health of their white matter. The participants were then split into three groups: one group did stretching and balance exercises three times per week, the second group walked three times per week for 40 minutes and the third group did dancing three times per week.
Exercises such as walking and dancing improved memory scores
After six months of the groups doing their respective exercises, they returned for more brain scans, and the researchers found that — aside from being aerobically fit — the walkers and dancers had renewed white matter, and the walkers in particular had better performances on memory tests.
The group who stretched and did not do aerobic exercise showed poorer cognitive health compared to the other two groups. After the six months, their white matter was more thin and frayed, and they scored lower on cognitive tests than the others.
So if you’re someone who enjoys a hot girl walk, or taking a dance class, you could probably benefit from keeping up your exercise. Although an article about the study in the New York Times states that it “remains unclear whether the brains of younger, fitter people would likewise benefit or if longer-term aerobic exercise might prompt larger improvements in memory and thinking,” the results of the study indicate that moving around and getting your heart pumping appears to have a positive impact on the brain’s white matter.