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Best Exercise to Improve Memory

kayaking on Whiskeytown Improve Memory via cardioLake An older adult aging activelyThe best exercise you can do to improve memory is ….

Uh, hold on while I jog my memory.
Did you see the hint I embedded in that prior sentence? Based on the last 10 years of what is now overwhelming evidence, the BEST activity you can do to improve your memory is anything aerobic. You even get a double bonus in that your memory is enhanced both immediately and long term through aerobic, aka cardio exercise.

More than strength training, more than brain games, better than travel, or learning a new skill — the powerhouse, champion way to improve memory is to exercise aerobically. The above listed activities are certainly helpful, though runners up. Ha ha aha Worked in another word play.

What Makes an Activity “Aerobic?”

What does “aerobic” really mean? How do you know if you are performing cardio activity?

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Aerobic exercise is defined as all of the following occurring simultaneously:

  • Systemic, meaning most of your body is involved. Waving your arms while sitting otherwise inert would not be aerobic as your whole system is not moving. The lower body could be taking a nap while the arms party up and down.  If you are using most or all of your major muscles, you are probably moving aerobically.
  • Sustainable, meaning you could sustain the activity at least 20 minutes without hating the world and wondering when you can get off. You don’t HAVE to sustain the activity 20 minutes to get cardio benefit, but if you are working at a level where you COULD keep going at least 20 minutes, then you meet this criteria. For instance, I could not do airjacks or jump tucks for 20 minutes. Who wants to anyway? But I could power walk or hit the elliptical machine for that long.
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  • Having an elevated heart rate. You smarty pants out there probably read the criteria above and thought “I can sustain couch lounging for 20 minutes ergo I am in my cardio zone.” Yeah, but is your heart rate also going higher? You have to meet ALL the criteria I am sharing with you to be aerobic.
  • Elevated or heavy breathing. Having to catch your breath every 3- 5 words is a good indicator that you are working aerobically. If you could spill your life story, then sip a little air, you are below aerobic threshold (fancy talk for “you need to work harder.”). If you get out one word, gasp for breath, get out another word, gasp again, you are above threshold. Lower your intensity IF you want to stay aerobic. Being anaerobic, above threshold has benefits, but for brain boosting purposes, stick with the heavy, not heaving breath elevation.
    Kymberly and Alexandra post bike ride Fitness trends for boomers

    We remember loving this bike ride.

Where Does the Word “Aerobic” Come From?

If you like etymology then you’ll enjoy knowing that the word “aerobic” is derived from the Greek word “aero” for air or oxygen and “bio” indicating “life.” In short, aerobic exercise is life giving.  Back in the day, our ancestors had to run to eat or avoid being eaten. Our bodies and brains were made to move aerobically. We ran to survive. We aerobicise to thrive!

Gimme Some Examples Purty Please

So what are some types of aerobic exercise? And does any cardio activity improve memory or just certain kinds?

Great news — any cardio exercise will improve your memory, recall, attention span, and focus. You can take a step class, walk your dog, hike trails, swim, dance, cavort (we baby boomers are good cavorters, right?). Other aerobic activities include kickboxing, indoor cycling, outdoor bike riding, getting on treadmills, elliptical machines, the stairclimber. Lots of options.

Kymberly on step to Imprpve Memory

Stepping up to cardio and better memory.

I often get asked whether playing sports is aerobic. Generally if you are very good or very bad at the sport, you will be in your aerobic zone. Picture being pretty unskilled at tennis, for instance. You are chasing the ball all over the place; your opponent is trying to send the ball where you haven’t anticipated; you have to run a lot. Pant pant. Heart rate up, etc.

Or you are very good at tennis, so you constantly shift your position to send your opponent off guard; you run to return hits; you keep in athletic stance, and the game moves quickly. Bingo – cardio!

Improve Memory Here and Now

Certainly a looooooong list of benefits comes with aerobic training. The relative newcomer to the plethora of reasons to get up and boogie is aerobic exercise is numero uno, way out in front as the best way to improve memory.  Forget dementia (ok, not a very good word play, but it works). Start NOW to stave off memory loss or to halt its progress. The aerobic movement you do today will give you memory enhancements benefits starting today

ACTION: Learn more motivating ways to improve your memory when you read the two posts below. Comment, share, tweet. THANKS!

 

7 Movement Habits to Improve Your Memory Now

Want a Better Memory? Why? How?

By Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

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Want a Better Memory? Why? How?

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

Marilu Henner finds me memorable

Marilu Henner finds me memorable

Do you want to remember more of your past? By midlife, we have gained decades of experiences, some of which we can pull from our memory; some of which have retreated into the dusty closets of our brain. What if you could retrieve tons of memories you don’t even remember having forgotten? (Except that time when you got caught coming in late from the prom and were grounded. Still too vivid).

Would You Want to Remember Everything?

One of the most interesting talks I attended at the recent Natural Products Expo West (NPEW), was a talk on improving memory given by Marilu Henner, sponsored by Ascenta. Best known as an actress, Marilu is also one of 12 people in the world identified as having Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), which is the ability to recall the slightest details of nearly every day of life. In short, Marilu can remember almost EVERYTHING in her life, even baby experiences. Believe me, people in the audience were trying to stump her by throwing out dates and asking what day of the week it occurred on and what was going on at that time. Or they had met her once backstage at a play she was in and wondered if she remembered that meeting. She did — listing even what they both wore, ate, said, and saw. Whoa! Would you want that ability, or even some of it? I wouldn’t mind having SDAM (Sorta Decent Autobio Memory).

Are You Ready to Receive, Retain, and Retrieve Your Past?

Marilu claims we all have the capability to “Receive, Retain, and Retrieve” more memories. Which prompts again the question: Why would we want to recall more memories, especially bad ones? Aside from avoiding dementia, (ok, that’s a pretty big “aside”), what is the value of having a brain full of memories? And how do we go about retrieving more of those hidden stories and events?

I remember when my husband and daughter were this young.

I remember when my husband and daughter were this young. Now where did I put them?

Does Memory Bring Meaning and Life Purpose?

According to Marilu, developing a strong autobiographical memory is the best path to a more fulfilling life. She asserts that our memories offer meaning. Her memories inform why she is living each day. As well, she believes that bringing more memories into our awareness allows us to

  1. identify and understand patterns, emotions, and reasons in our life
  2. break negative behavior patterns that don’t serve us
  3. choose positive patterns that propel us to success, happiness, and purpose.

If you see a connection between having a stronger memory and your life purpose, then you will want to do two things: read her tips below and buy her book, Total Memory Makeover.

Marilu’s Strategies for Enhancing Your Memory Starting Now

  1. Explore your “primary track,” defined as a category of memories you most easily and often recall. Examples could be travel, relationships, foods, sports, places you’ve lived. Then fill in the blanks around the strong memory.
  2. Once you determine your primary track, cross-connect that with the sense you most rely on– sight, sound, touch, taste or smell. For instance, if you have a strong auditory sense, ask yourself, “What music was popular at the time I am trying to remember?” Your senses assist your recall ability. If you are a visual person, scroll through your day each evening as if running a video montage.
  3. Sear memories into your brain. Mentally take check as you experience events. Ask yourself, “How can I bake this into my brain and make it a little more vivid?” to quote Marilu. For instance, try doing a smell check every so often: What scents surround you or stand out at a given moment?

NPEWUsing Marilu’s suggestions, not only can you stop memory decline, but also you can retrieve more memories to enrich your life. That’s the kind of active, health aging I can get behind. Now if only I could remember where I put the rest of my notes from the NPEW trade show and educational sessions!

Make healthy memories when you subscribe to our website and listen to our radio show. Experience some of the best leaders in the health, wellness, and fitness world every Wednesday morning at 8:00 PT/ 11:00am ET. Listen in (better yet, call in to 866-472-5792) to our new radio show Active Aging for Boom Chicka Boomers with guests who offer practical advice and cutting edge solutions to your active aging challenges. You’ll find us at voiceamerica.com on the Health and Wellness channel.