Best Exercise to Boost Your Memory

March 28, 2024 at 11:45 a.m.

"Memory is a muscle that takes training for optimal performance," states an article in Prevention magazine. The authors, Korin Miller and Kayla Blanton, point to both physical and mental exercises that together can improve your cognition.
The article is based on a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health that looked to explore the relative importance of individual factors, like daily movement, that can impact cognitive health. 

The good news is that even 10 minutes of physical exercise per day can improve your memory function over time. But the experts recommend both types of exercise:  movement (vigorous if you can manage it) and brain games to stay sharp.

While as little as 10 minutes of daily physical activity helps, the study found that moderate to vigorous exercise was linked to much higher cognition scores than people who spent most of their time sitting or only engaging in gentle exercise. 

Examples of moderate to vigorous exercise include brisk walking or any activity that boosts your heartrate: running, swimming, biking up an incline, even fast dancing can count as vigorous activity.

Exercise that gets your heart pumping means more blood flow to the brain. Steven K. Malin, PhD, said, "Often studies show the more aerobically fit individuals are, the more dense brain tissue is, suggesting better connectivity of tissue and health."

The study found that the higher levels of exercise were linked to better executive processes like planning and organization, along with better working memory (retaining new information that you can pull up and use in cognitive tasks).

Dr. Rabin said more vigorous forms of exercise build up the body's resilience. He used the term hormesis, "which means to put the body under stress, like intense exercise or hot and cold plunges... And because the mind and the body are connected, it also trains our mental and emotional resilience... We're less restless, less anxious as a result." 

It turns out exercise can eliminate the "mental noise" that interrupts memory storage and recollection. "The two main factors in memory retention are where we put our attention, and how much stress and anxiety we're under at the time. Stress and anxiety oppose new memory storage.

“Memory works through practice,” says Dave Rabin, MD, PhD, a neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and co-founder of Apollo Neuroscience. “The more we practice doing anything, as humans, the better our brain functions at a higher level.”
Although the study looked at moderate to vigorous exercise, it also pointed to the fact that even light exercise, just 10 to 20 minutes of walking a day, "can be enough to take the edge off."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that physical activity can help improve not only cognitive health and memory, but emotional balance and problem-solving skills as well. CDC recommends that most adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise.

Here are the CDC's suggestions for the best physical exercises for your memory, according to the article:

Dance fast enough to get your heart rate up, whether dancing along to music at home or taking a cardio dance class

Squats and marching in place, which can be done in front of the TV, will increase your heart rate, and the multi-tasking of watching TV at the same time can have a synergetic effect.

Start a walking routine. Having a dog, even better, as having a dog often helps people walk every day. One study found that dog owners walk, on average, 22 minutes more every day than people who don't own dogs.

Use the stairs whenever possible.

Some more vigorous exercise to consider:

Interval training (High Intensity Interval Training) short bursts of vigorous exercise between slower movements or briefly resting.



Biking on an incline. Ride uphill, or take a spin class to get your heart pumping. 

Activity Snacks: One of the doctors advises taking "activity snacks" each day... do a minute of two of jumping jacks, squats or planks with the intention of replacing 6-10 minutes of sedentary behavior with brief, high energy movements or strength poses throughout the day. 


The article goes on to state that doing brain exercise is also important when it comes to cognitive health. As important as breaking a sweat for memory, write the authors, is consistently challenging yourself to remember.

"Mental exercises are the most important for memory because the more we practice remembering things like phone numbers, addresses, people's names, faces, music, titles, driving directions, the better our memory gets," says Dr. Rabin. Consistently practice paying attention and remembering. 

"So it's important that we train ourselves to not be reliant on technology for these things, but to use technology to teach us how to expand our memory capacity on our own."

Research shows other ways to keep your mind sharp include getting enough sleep, learning a new language or new skill, playing an instrument and singing in a choir, tackling challenging puzzles, word games, brainteasers or other ways to challenge your mind. Maintaining social connections is another piece of the puzzle. 

And simply breathing helps. "Breathing kind of crosses the barrier between mental and physical exercises," explains Dr. Rabin. "Practicing breathing intentionally, which is a form of meditation, is extremely helpful for our memory and memory practice."

To read the full article and view the helpful links, visit

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