Study: can exercise improve memory?
If you want to exercise more and help science establish a link between better memory and exercise, there’s a study for you at the University of Maryland College Park.
Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the randomized clinical trial is enrolling 152 participants age 60 to 80 who are physically inactive — that is, people who exercise fewer than three days a week. The study will compare the brain function of people before and after six months of exercising for one hour, four days a week.
Volunteers who qualify for the study will visit Dr. J. Carson Smith’s lab at the University of Maryland’s Department of Kinesiology for four hours for some initial tests.
“We’re doing cognitive testing and physical function tests to measure gait speed and balance. We also do an exercise stress test where they’ll walk on a treadmill,” Smith said.
Next, participants will have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which takes about two hours. On a third day, they’ll return to the University of Maryland for a 90-minute appointment to have an ultrasound and blood drawn.
Then they’ll hit a local gym to start the exercise program. One group of the randomized study participants will start a low-intensity exercise routine and the other will be assigned to do moderate exercise. Both groups will be supervised by a trainer at all times.
The one-hour classes will meet at the Holiday Park Senior Center in Silver Spring, Md., the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., ACAC Germantown Gym in Germantown, and another yet-to-be-decided location in Howard County. (A D.C. or Virginia location may be available in the future, Smith said.)
The six-month exercise program begins slowly and ramps up gradually. “We start them off two days a week and do a lighter intensity, and then transition them into four days a week. We definitely try to make sure they’re successful and doing well,” Smith said.
After six months, Smith’s team will repeat the three days of testing and scans.
Builds on past research
Smith’s research on exercise’s effect on brain function caught the attention of The New York Times last spring. In April, Smith published a study in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society proving that just one workout session improved the memory of 26 people.
But the study was just the beginning, the Times said. It “does not explain how activity alters the brain, although Dr. Smith believes that a surge in certain neurotransmitters and other biochemicals after workouts must play a role. He and his colleagues are hoping to examine those issues in future studies and also zero in on the best types and amounts of exercise to help us maintain our memories.”
Scheduled to run through April 2023, the new study is co-sponsored by Johns Hopkins and Marquette universities. There’s no cost to participate in the new study; in fact, its 152 participants will be paid up to $400, Smith said. His lab can also provide transportation help or parking validation.
For more information or to volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (301) 405-2574.