Memory Maximizers: Exercise for Improving Memory; Green Tea, Caffeine’s Effect on Memory

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

A Little Exercise Can Go a Long Way in Improving Memory

Your memory may benefit from even very light workouts, such as a 10-minute session of yoga or tai chi. Researchers in California and Japan found greater connectivity in the hippocampus—the region associated with memory formation and storage—in people after just a few minutes of mild exertion. The researchers used high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to discover the heightened brain activity after exercise. Researchers noted that the hippocampus plays such a key role in the storage and retrieval of memories, yet is also one of the first parts of the brain to deteriorate as a person ages. If improving hippocampal activity through exercise is possible, then regular physical activity may hold a key to preserving memory later in life. Other studies have shown that exercise can help trigger the formation of new brain cells. This study was unique in that it illustrated greater communication between memory formation and recall in the hippocampus. More research is needed to better understand the connection between exercise and hippocampal activity, but researchers are encouraged that short exercise sessions, which may be well suited to older adults, may have some memory-protecting benefits.

Green Tea, Caffeinated Beverages May Brew Better Memory Skills

As winter brings on lower temperatures and later sunrises, starting your day with a hot cup of tea or coffee may be just the thing to warm you up and perk you up, too. But what’s in those mugs may also be boosting your memory. Caffeine has long been known for its abilities to enhance alertness. But studies in recent years have also suggested that caffeine enhances memory for up to 24 hours after it is consumed. And green tea, whether it is caffeinated or not, contains compounds that also appear to preserve and promote greater memory skills. A plant phenol, called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), interferes with oxidative damage to cells, thereby perhaps helping it protect against cancer as well as memory loss. One study found that consuming green tea extract was associated with better performance on memory tests. You would have to drink several cups of green tea a day to get the same amount of EGCG that is in a daily green tea extract supplement, which is usually sold in 300 milligram (mg) to 500 mg doses. There are two important caveats if you are looking to bump up your caffeine intake. One is that many drinks with caffeine, such as soda or sweetened coffees, include large amounts of sugar, which is not good for the health of your brain or the rest of your body. Stay away from any drinks with a lot of added sugars. The other issue is caffeine sensitivity. If you have a heart rhythm disturbance or other condition that may make you sensitive to caffeine, don’t start drinking coffee or tea just for the possible memory boost. There are other ways to maximize your memory without risking your health.

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