New UT Southwestern research has found that the brain changes after 1 year of aerobic workouts, with exercise boosting blood flow into 2 key regions of the brain associated with memory.

Further, the study showed that this blood flow can help older people with memory issues to improve cognition, which could guide future Alzheimer disease research, according to the study authors. 

“Perhaps we can one day develop a drug or procedure that safely targets blood flow into these brain regions, but we’re just getting started with exploring the right combination of strategies to help prevent or delay symptoms of Alzheimer disease,” said Binu Thomas, PhD, UT Southwestern senior research scientist in neuroimaging, in a press release. “There’s much more to understand about the brain and aging.”

The study documented changes in long-term memory and cerebral blood flow in 30 participants, each over 60 years of age, with memory problems. Half of the participants underwent 12 months of aerobic exercise training, while the rest only stretched.

The results showed a 47% improvement in some memory scores after 1 year compared with minimal change in the stretch participants. Brain imaging of the exercise group was taken while they were at rest at the beginning and end of the study. The images showed increased blood flow into the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus, regions of the brain that play a vital part in memory function, according to the study authors.

This new research is significant compared with previous studies on the subject due to its goal to improve memory over a longer period in adults at high risk of cognitive decline.

“We’ve shown that even when your memory starts to fade, you can still do something about it by adding aerobic exercise,” said Thomas in a press release.

Exercise improves memory, boosts blood flow to brain. UT Southwestern Medical Center. Published May 20, 2020. Accessed June 8, 2020.