Even a Short Walk Can Boost Your Memory and Brain Health, Scientists Discover

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Even two minutes of exercise per day could be enough to improve your brain health and memory, a study has found. Researchers looking at past studies saw that any amount of exercise, even if it was only a short walk, was good for the brains of people between the ages of 18 and 35.

The NHS recommends that all adults should do at least two hours of moderate activity per week but science suggests a lot less than that could still be worthwhile.

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The exercise was found to be good for the brain because it made nerve cells more active and it increased dopamine levels, helping to sharpen people’s focus and memory. The effects after short periods of exercise were found to last for at least two hours in the tests, while the researchers added that intense exercise brought long-term improvement.

As well as boosting brain health, exercise at any level is proven to bring a wealth of health benefits including strengthened heart and lungs, and a lowered risk of long-term illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

The Swedish researchers who did the study suggested their findings, which were specific to young people, could help them to learn better in studies or at work. The scientific review looked at people aged between 18 to 35 who exercised by walking, running, or cycling at moderate to high intensity.

After exercising they then took tests to analyze their brainpower, such as remembering a list of 15 words. The participants, who exercised in bursts of two minutes, or 15 minutes, half an hour, or an hour, all improved on tests and showed better concentration and problem-solving skills.

Findings were pooled together from 13 other studies that were then analyzed by researchers from the Jonkoping and Linkoping universities in Sweden.

The authors wrote: ‘This systematic review strongly suggests that aerobic, physical exercise followed by a brief recovery… improves attention, concentration, and learning and memory functions in young adults.

‘The results of this review may have important education‐related implications. ‘Identifying optimal exercise strategies may help students to enhance their learning and memory.’ Exercise is believed to increase levels of a protein called ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor’ which is thought to be important for memory, the scientists said.

They also suggested that brainpower improvements might come from a ‘sustained’ boost to nerve connectivity in the organ. And exercising is also known to increase levels of the feel-good hormone, which works as a neurotransmitter, helping signals to flit quickly around the brain.

Higher levels of dopamine, the researchers said, ‘may enhance attention and memory’. But not everyone is a natural athlete or has hours to work out. The review wanted to see if a single bout of exercise could have an effect, so looked at studies exploring this with young adults over ten years.

The review, published in the journal Translational Sports Medicine, found any exercise from two minutes to an hour improved memory and thinking skills for up to two hours.

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