A popular subject that we’ve been answering questions about over the past week is memory. It’s been taught, and popularly believed that as we age, our memory declines and begins to “get worse.” While this is true to some extent, the belief that it “just happens” and there’s nothing that can be done about it is false!

The most exciting thing we’ve learned in neuorscience over the past decade is this: Almost everything we originally learned and thought about how the brain works up to about 1995 was wrong! Technology improved as well as our methods, and we’ve come to a better and deeper understanding of how the brain and nervous system actually work.

So…. gather around for a really cool story about how your memory can be improved by moving!

There are a few foundational concepts we first need to explain for this to make sense.
Concept #1: There are 2 things the brain needs to stay alive- fuel (oxygen and glucose) and activation (“Use it or Lose it!”)

Concept #2: Information flows through the brain in a certain pattern- bottom to top, back to front. In other words, it enters from the spinal cord, travels up and then towards the front to the corresponding “centers” it needs to travel to (see illustration).

Thanks to new technology, we’re actually able to see on MRI that when an area of the brain is “activated,” you can actually see increased blood flow to that center in the brain. What’s also been seen is that when one part of the brain is activated, the areas that live next to it are activated as well.

What does this mean for our movement and memory? The brain’s “memory center” lives in the frontal lobe of the brain (frontal= front). And, as you see in the illustration below, the motor (movement) center of the brain is located just before the frontal lobes.

If information (or “activation”) travels from bottom to top and back to front, and if activated areas of the brain activate surrounding areas of the brain, then every time you move, you’re not only activating the motor area of the brain, you’re also activating the frontal lobe where your memory lives.
The more (and better) you move, the more that memory center is activated. As we get better at moving (by practicing!) the more that motor area is activated, and by default, the more the memory center of the brain is activated. With more activation comes better access- those pathways are strengthened (called “myelinated”) from the bottom to top and back to front. We can “get to” the memory center easier, more efficiently, and more accurately.

The main reason our memory goes bad as we age is because as we age, we progressively become less active, and we rely less on learning and remembering new things- we just practice what we already know (think career!- once we’re out of school, for the most part, we’re just practicing what we’ve already learned). As we get busy and take less time for activity as well as take less time to learn and remember new things, our movement and memory centers slowly become less active. However, this decline isn’t permanent! As you begin to activate areas of the brain in new ways, those areas become “active” again. As you begin to take time to move more, the motor area and frontal lobes become more active and all functions that those areas of the brain are responsible for improve… including memory! I’m sure many of you have already experienced this to some degree since joining Fitness Evolved. Here’s the cool thing: it doesn’t stop! The more you practice, the better you get!

It’s no longer just hype to get you to go to the gym- it’s science!

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