Regular physical exercise clearly improves your physical health. It can keep your body weight and fat under control. It lowers your risk of chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Now a new study published in the journal Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience suggests that better physical fitness has mental benefits as well. Exercise might improve your memory.

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Regular exercise could improve your memory.

Researchers at Michigan State University studied college students and classified their aerobic fitness by their age, sex, percent body fat and body weight. They also used a treadmill test to measure oxygen consumption and further demonstrate the students’ aerobic fitness.

They then administered a test where a student had to remember word pairs on the first day and then try to remember the words on the second day. The college students with poor fitness levels were much worse retaining information compared to the students with excellent fitness levels.

Significance of the findings

We’ve seen previously how exercise can benefit the mental health of children. It also appears to slow cognitive decline with aging. This study suggests that regular physical activity can improve the brains of healthy adults.

Recommendations to improve your memory

Since many of us work in information-oriented jobs instead of physical or manual labor, we need our memory and cognitive skills as sharp as possible. Regular aerobic exercise appears to be one way to achieve it. It can be challenging to find time to exercise with long hours sitting at the office and busy personal schedules and family commitments. But we must find a way to get cardiovascular-enhancing activity on a regular basis.

That exercise might not just make us feel better. It might make us smarter too!

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Pontifex MB, Parks AC, O’Neil PC, Egner AR, Warning JT, Pfeiffer KA, Fenn KM. Poorer aerobic fitness relates to reduced integrity of multiple memory systems. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. Published online ahead of print March 4, 2014.