Memory is an illusive thing. It seems to wane as you get older, it improves when you aren’t trying to remember (when you relax), and sometimes the things that you least expect to help it can actually have a big impact. Movement is one of those things. That’s right, getting regular movement can actually help you remember names, sharpen your recall, and even get smarter.
When John Ratey wrote the book SPARK, he identified that movement caused the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain. In the hippocampus this serves as “Miracle Gro for the brain” and helps build a scaffolding for robust new neurons and neural pathways. This combination leads to improved memory.
Another study showed that even a brief high intensity 5-minute bout of aerobic exercise improved performance in a face-name matching task in Irish college students.
More recently, it’s been discovered that a protein called Cathepsin B is released by muscles during exercise and plays an important role in the creation of new neurons. In fact, one study observed an increase of Cathepsin B with regular fitness training as well as a commensurate improvement in recall and visual memory.
The great thing - using movement to improve memory is very simple.
3 Strategies to Optimize Memory with Movement
_Prepare your brain by starting your day with movement. We teach our 10 Daily Prep movements but even just going for a brisk walk can be helpful. On a crazy busy day, parking further away so you get 5 to 10 minutes of walking in before you get to the office can do the trick.
_Avoid being sedentary for more than 90 minutes at a time. Building regular movement breaks into your day can spread your movement out throughout the day. Many days, I create a specific movement for the day (like prisoner squats or kettle bell swings) and I perform a couple of sets of 10 reps every 90 minutes. One app you may want to try is Time Out - just a simple way to remind you to take breaks.
_Prime your brain with 5 minutes of interval training (we call this Energy Systems Development) before learning new material or performing an activity that requires memory recall. This means pushing yourself for 15 seconds and then letting your heart rate and breathing recover. This can easily be done by climbing stairs, jumping rope, doing speed squats, going for a brisk walk, etc.
As always, if you want to multiply the impact on your memory, you should implement strategies from Mindset, Nutrition, and Recovery too. If your blood sugar is low or you’re dehydrated, if you’re sleep deprived or haven’t recovered all day, or if your self-talk is negative and low performance, then your memory will definitely be compromised. In fact, when you look at the list of skills and attributes that make up a high performance mindset, you can’t help but realize that developing your focus, your listening skills, and your curiosity will all help you improve your memory. At the same time, don’t underestimate that movement is not just for losing weight, getting stronger, or improving your heart and lungs. It’s also a great tool for improving your memory.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts.
Tignum Performance Coach