The most recent findings to emerge from the Translational Neurobiology Lab’s collaboration with Dr. Hideaki Soya and colleagues at the University of Tsukuba (Ibaraki, Japan) may bring good news to the “moderately fit” among us. Their paper published in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that higher levels of aerobic fitness are associated with an aspect of memory that allows us to create more sharply-defined memories of similar experiences, as opposed to only remembering their commonalities. Students of varying levels of aerobic fitness from the University of Tsukuba were recruited to participate in a memory test that required them to discern whether they were being presented with an image that was exactly the same as one they were shown previously. This test, known as the mnemonic discrimination task challenges a process in the brain called pattern separation, which has also been shown to be vulnerable to age-related cognitive decline. In this study, aerobic fitness level is assumed to be linked with the endurance capacity that results from high levels of physical fitness, which has been shown to improve memory and cognition. A second paper published by the UC Irvine – Tsukuba team in the journal Hippocampus suggests that a benefit to performance on this task may be attained after just ten minutes of moderate exercise. They proposed that exercise may be activating the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for carrying out pattern separation. A possible long-term effect of moderate exercise is aerobic activity-linked “neurogenesis,” the birth of new brain cells, which increases the number of neurons available to make new connections. Future studies will be needed to assess the brain mechanisms.

Suwabe, K., Hyodo, K., Byun, K., Ochi, G., Fukuie, T., Shimizu, T., … & Soya, H. (2017). Aerobic fitness associates with mnemonic discrimination as a mediator of physical activity effects: evidence for memory flexibility in young adults. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 5140.