Exercise can not only buy you a fit body but also a better memory. A new study has revealed that physically fit people tend to have a bigger hippocampus, which is responsible for the formation and storage of new memories as well as for spatial navigation.
Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Pittsburgh have found that fitness increases hippocampus size, which in turn improves spatial memory, making it easier to record information about one’s environment and its spatial orientation and consequently ensuring the convenience of navigation around a familiar city.
Previous studies have depicted that the volume of hippocampus can be increased by exercising its spatial skills and its memorizing abilities. Cabbies in London are known to have a larger hippocampus than other citizens, and experienced cabbies have it bigger than the new ones. Constantly making use of the memory-making skills of hippocampus can also help it grow; study of German medical students revealed that their hippocampus got larger, while studying for finals.
Studies in the past have shown that exercise increases hippocampus size and spatial memory in rodents, but scientists have demonstrated for the first time that exercise can affect hippocampus size and memory in humans.
In the new study, researchers measured the cardiorespiratory fitness of 165 adults (including 109 females) between 59 and 81 years of age. After measuring their hippocampus, the volunteers were given a test of spatial memory. Later, their aerobic fitness was measured by VO2 max.
The scientists found a “triple association” – physical fitness was associated with a larger hippocampus, which in turn was related with better spatial memory.
Hippocampus is a brain structure inside the medial temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex, which known to shrink with age, causing small but significant cognitive decline. However, the rate of its deterioration is different among individuals.
“The higher fit people have a bigger hippocampus, and the people that have more tissue in the hippocampus have a better spatial memory,” said University of Illinois professor Art Kramer, who led the study along with Pittsburgh psychology professor Kirk Erickson.
“Basically, if you stay fit, you retain key regions of your brain involved in learning and memory,” said Erickson.
SOURCE: THE MED GURU