Posts Tagged ‘Aerobic exercise’

14-Day Brain Workout?

December 7, 2013

“14-Day Brain Workout!” is the title of an insert by Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., to the National Geographic Complete Guide to Brain Fitness. I’ve replaced the “!” with a “?” because I am completely perplexed by the word “Day” in the title. Does she mean 14 days and your done? This insert is based on Green’s 30 Days toTotal Brain Health, which I find to be even more perplexing. Brain or memory health is a lifelong pursuit, not something that is accomplished in days. Had she substituted the “activities.” the title would be acceptable. An argument can be made that the failure to continue pursuing certain activities as we age can contribute to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Nevertheless, the healthymemory blog shall review her activities in the context of developing and maintaining a healthy memory.

Get Physical. Yes. Aerobic exercise several days a week is definitely beneficial to brain health. Just walking 45 minutes three times a week is beneficial to memory and your hippocampus (see the healthymemory blog post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).

Tap a Tune. She write of the benefits of tapping a tune with your fingers for a few minutes a day. I really would like to see the research on which she bases this activity. I remain skeptical, particularly if it is done only a few minutes a day.

Color Your World. She encourages drawing or sketching using colored pencils. Now it is beneficial to engage in new activities, but I am skeptical if doing this only briefly will be beneficial.

Learn About Memory Loss. Here she recommends reading about Alzheimer’s. I strongly recommend reading generally about memory and how your memory works and how it fails to work. Many such posts on this topic can be found in the healthymemory blog.

Jump Some Jacks. The jacks here is in the context of jumping jacks. I would subsume this under the earlier activity of getting physical.

The Honorable Opposition. I strongly endorse this activity. This is a matter of familiarizing yourself with the opinions of others. This goes beyond brain and memory health, but also addresses the goal of being a good citizen (see the healthymemory blog post, “APS Address on The Psychological Science Behind Hyperpartisanship and What to Do About It”).

Write a Haiku. Haiku is an ancient Japanese form of verse. Although it is reasonable to think that writing poetry contributes to memory health, there is little reason to think that there is anything special about Haiku.

Take a Yoga Break. Yes. Yoga is beneficial, but there are other forms of meditation that are also beneficial (enter “meditation” into the healthymemory search box) and , “are less demanding physically.

Reorganize Your Desk. Being an inveterate slob I should recuse myself from commenting on this activity. Nevertheless, although I will admit that there are benefits to being organized, I know of no research indicating that this is beneficial to a healthy memory.

Do Something Kind. Yes, not only doing something kind but simply thinking something kind can be beneficial to health (see the healthymemory blog post “The Importance of the Vagus Nerve in Relieving Stress.”).

Learn the Symptoms of a Stroke. Yes. This is quite important. Be sure to visit the National Stroke Association website,

Doodle. Here Dr. Green does cite some research. According to a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology research participants assigned a doodling task not only did better when quizzed on what they were monitoring in a phone call, but also did 29% better than a control group on a surprise memory test.

Hug 5 People. Yes. Hugging is good. See “Do Something Good.” Just be sure that you know the 5 people that you hug.

List 10 Ways Your Brain is Great. Indeed, Your brain is great. But you not only need to appreciate it, but you also need to build and grow it continually.

All in all, the suggestions are good. I believe more emphasis should have been spent on the importance of social interactions. And I think the benefits of specific memory improving techniques should also have been included (See the “Mnemonic Techniques” category of the healthymemory blog.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus

April 24, 2011

A previous post, “If You Do Not Like Mnemonic Techniques, Try Walking”, was a little thin given the importance of the topic. So I’ve gone to the original article1. The hippocampus is a component of the brain that is critical to memory function. Unfortunately, the hippocampus shrinks 1-2% annually in older adults without dementia, and this loss of volume increases the risk of developing cognitive impairment. This experiment was undertaken to assess whether exercise and what kind of exercise might mitigate this decline.

Participants between the ages of 55 and 80 years old were recruited, who did not have any pertinent diseases or disabilities. 120 participants were randomly assigned: half to a stretching and resistance training control group, and half to an aerobic walking group. Sessions for each group were held three times a week and lasted roughly one hour. Participants in the aerobic group started walking for ten minutes the first week and increased walking durations by five minute increments until a duration of 40 minutes was reached by week seven. Each session began and ended with approximately 5 minutes of stretching. The control group engaged in four muscle-toning exercises using dumbbells or resistance bands, two exercises designed to improve balance, one yoga sequence and one exercise of their choice. The program lasted for one year. MRIs, fitness, and short term memory were assessed before the program began, 6 months into the program, and at the end of the one-year program. Blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of the program.

Aerobic exercise (walking) increased hippocampal volume by 2%. This increase effectively reverses the expected age-related loss by 1 to 2 years. Moreover, increased hippocampal volume was positively correlated with improvements in short term memory performance. Increased hippocampal volume was also associated with greater levels of serum Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps support the survival of existing neurons and encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses.

Hippocampal volume did decrease in the control group, but higher preintervention fitness partially attenuated the decline. The control group also exhibited improvement in short term memory performance.

Changes in fitness are associated with increased hippocampal volume. The aerobic exercise group showed a 7.78% improvement in maximal oxygen consumption (VO2) after intervention, whereas the stretching control group showed a 1/11% in VO2 max.

So although both exercise regimes were beneficial, the aerobic regime appeared to be more beneficial, especially with respect to its beneficial effects on hippocampal volume. Given the importance of the hippocampus to brain and memory, this finding is extremely important. Moreover, this aerobic exercise regimen was fairly mild and undemanding.

1Erickson, K.I., Voss, M.W., Prakash, R.S., Basak, C., Szabo, A., Chaddock, L., Kim, J.S., Heo, S., White, S.M., Wojcicki, T.R., Malley, E., Viera, V.J., Martin, S.A., Pence, B.D., Woods, J.A., McAuley, E., & Kramer, A.F. (2011). Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves Memory. PNAS Early Edition,