New Study Finds High Intensity Exercise Is Best for Memory

The idea that the mind and the body are more connected than we previously believed is now being accepted by more and more people. We all know that staying active and treating our bodies right can help alleviate stress, promote wellbeing, increase our energy levels and promote longevity on many levels. 

According to a new study, when it comes to the effect of aerobic exercise and brain health, the level of intensity of the workout really matters. 

A report published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, examined the effect of aerobic exercise intensity on memory and general cognitive abilities. A group of healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 88 were analyzed during a 12-week period, in which they participated in three sessions per week. The participants were split evenly into three groups: one HIIT workout group, one moderate-intensity continuous training group, and one group that only stretched. 

“The researchers tested the amount of each group’s “newborn” neurons—this type of neuron has been previously shown to be more active than mature neurons and can better form new connections in the brain and create new memories,” per MindBodyGreen. 

The researchers found that the participants in the HIIT group saw their memory performance increase by 30% after the three-month period, compared to no change for the moderate exercise group. 

“These scientists found that the HIIT group specifically boosted their high-interference memory, which typically helps people distinguish between similar information (think differentiating cars from the same make or model),” per MBG. 

Key takeaways from the study include:

  • High-intensity interval training results in the greatest memory performance in inactive older adults compared to moderate continuous training or stretching 
  •  Improvement in fitness correlates with improvement in memory performance

Overall, the new research supports the notion that exercise can help promote healthy aging and reduce the negative side effects of degenerative brain diseases like dementia. 

“There is an urgent need for interventions that reduce dementia risk in healthy older adults. Only recently have we begun to appreciate the role that lifestyle plays, and the greatest modifying risk factor of all is physical activity,” wrote Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D., lead author of the study.