The 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?
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.
- 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.
What Is “Aerobic”?
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. Other aerobic activities include kickboxing, indoor cycling, outdoor bike riding, getting on treadmills, elliptical machines, the stairclimber. Lots of options.
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