Can childhood exercise prevent memory loss in old age?

Like any muscle, keeping the brain active is a way to ensure its strength over time.

Circulation | Memory and concentration

Dr. Owen Wiseman, ND

27 November 2018

Picture yourself on a crisp fall afternoon walking around your neighborhood. It’s too cool for just a sweater, but warm enough for a light jacket. As you round the street corner, you’re hit by the powerful scent of apple pie that transports you back to when you were young.

The ability to retain so much information over the lifespan is an incredible aspect of the human experience, with our memories serving countless functions. They keep us safe, reminding us that you cannot down eight shots of tequila like you could in your early twenties.

They provide a sense of comfort when we recall a day spent with a loved one who has passed. They also help us remember that secret family recipe…even if we forget what ingredient we need as we move from one room to the next.

When we first encounter a stimulus such as a certain sight, noise, or sound, this causes our neurons to fire as they detect the input. These are fleeting impressions of the world around us that happen countless times per day.

Our brain momentarily preserves these pieces of information to determine whether or not they require further attention. If not, the information decays rapidly, but if the stimulus is of interest, it moves into short-term memory.

Short-term memory

Short-term memory has a capacity to store approximately five to nine pieces of information at a time before some disappear and some move into long-term memory. Long-term memory has an almost limitless capacity for information and can be divided into a few specific categories.

To start, there are implicit memories which cannot be described verbally. Often these are known as procedural memories, skills and habits such as driving a car, dribbling a basketball, or the motions of swimming.

On the other side of the coin are explicit memories, ones that individuals are consciously aware of and can describe. Within the explicit category, there are semantic memories which are general knowledge such as rules and facts, as well as episodic memories which are those individuals have personally experienced.

Long-term memory

Long-term memory is so strong because physical changes occur in the brain whereby new connections between neurons form and existing ones are strengthened. This makes the memories more resistant to change and decay.

Memories have the potential to last a lifetime, but there are ways they can be lost. Certain areas of the brain related to memory, such as the hippocampus, begin to decay with age.

Additionally, neurons are like any cell and therefore produce waste byproducts as they go about their business. The housekeeping staff responsible for removing waste and taking dead neurons to their final resting place are known as glia.

With age, they become less efficient in their duties and like the estate of an aristocrat without staff, the grounds fall into disarray. Toxins, waste, and dead neurons begin to accumulate which carries a host of problems for the hard-working brain. Signals are interrupted, entire areas may cease to function or communicate with neighboring neurons which can encourage cell death as they fail to receive input.

Exercise and children

It goes without saying that exercise carries numerous benefits for the body, but even more critical is the pro-active use of exercise in childhood to delay age-related decline. Like any muscle, keeping the brain active is a way to ensure its strength over time. When children are involved in physical activity, they demonstrate greater academic success, behavioral control, and memory.

When researchers attempted to understand why the memory of active children was significantly stronger, they discovered that the body redirects a greater amount of blood to the hippocampus.

Take a dive back in time to the age when the Great Pyramids of Giza were being built. The Pharaoh directed a massive amount of resources to building something early in his reign, and thousands of years later, these wonders of the world still stand strong.

A strong neurological foundation early in life ensures that those structures responsible for memory stand the test of time. While we cannot turn back the clock to tell our childhood selves to exercise more, we can take steps to bolster our brain :

  • Symptom relief. Baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a yeast that carries benefits for the gut and overall body health. Most notably, it carries anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. When the brain becomes inflamed, this can cause increased pressure as the brain presses against the skull impairing neurological function. 
  • Give your brain a break! Sleep is a critical component to ensuring a healthy brain. When you’re active during the day, there are so many functions happening that it’s difficult for the body to focus on one area. When you fall asleep, the housekeeping glial cells clean up the brain allowing for new connections to form and ridding the toxins. One of these toxins is known as beta-amyloid, a protein contributing to plaque formation in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
  • Eat brains…woops, eat FOR your brain. Disclaimer, eating brains has not been shown to improve your own neurological health. However, adding foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish or via a supplement such as VegOmega 3 have been shown to contribute to improved memory.


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