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Open up the sensual side of your brain.


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Runner’s World

Increasing your activity benefits more than just your muscles—it can be a major brain booster as well.
Want to Keep Your Memory Sharp? Get Your Blood Pumping
Increasing your activity benefits more than just your muscles—it can be a major brain booster as well.
  • A new study published in the journal Brain found that having a good blood supply to your brain can help improve your memory.
  • Exercise has been found to increase blood supply, and since working out gets your blood pumping, at least some of it ends up in your brain.

Some people can hear something once and remember it for years to come, while others need a few reminders in order for information to stick.

A good memory has been linked to numerous factors, including having low levels of inflammation throughout your body and getting an ample amount of antioxidants. Now, a recent study published in the journal Brain adds one more to the list: a good blood supply to your noggin.

German researchers recruited 47 people, ages 45 to 89, and used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the blood supply to the hippocampus—a small area in the brain that is considered the “control center” for memory. The participants were also evaluated in memory performance, ability to concentrate, and speech comprehension.

Twenty of the participants were found to have alterations in the blood vessels in their brains that affected blood supply to the hippocampus. This group also had lower scores on cognitive tests, leading the researchers to conclude that the supply of both blood and oxygen coming through the blood vessels could have a significant effect on memory function.

“This study shows a clear link between blood supply to the hippocampus and cognitive performance,” study coauthor Stefanie Schreiber, M.D., senior neurologist at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany, told Bicycling. “This suggests that brain blood flow might play a key role in the declining of memory performance caused by age or disease.”

She added that lifestyle factors, such as exercise, could have an influence on the formation of blood vessels that supply the hippocampus, as well as the efficiency of how they deliver blood to that area.

[Smash your goals with a Runner’s World Training Plan, designed for any speed and any distance.]

More research will need to be done to confirm that possibility, she added, but previous studies suggest that when exercise gets the blood pumping, at least some of it ends up in the brain—and that effect may be beneficial for improving cognitive function.

A small, 2011 study of older women found that brisk walking for 30 to 50 minutes three or four times per week improved blood flow to the brain by as much as 15 percent. Those researchers noted that not only does the blood bring oxygen and other nutrients to the brain, but it also washes away metabolic wastes such as amyloid-beta protein, which has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease development.

Another study from 2015 concluded that exercise may prevent or delay cognitive decline by improving the rate of brain atrophy as well as blood flow.

No matter what mechanisms are at play, it’s clear that increasing your activity levels benefits more than just your muscles—it can be a major brain booster as well.