The study, in the journal Hippocampus, shows that hippocampus size in physically fit adults accounts for about 40 percent of their advantage in spatial memory.
The hippocampus, a curved structure deep inside the medial temporal lobe of the brain, is essential to memory formation. Remove it – as was done in the well-known case of surgical patient Henry Gustav Molaison – and a person’s ability to store most new experiences in memory is destroyed.
The hippocampus also is a key player in spatial navigation and other types of relational memory.
Certain activities are believed to modify hippocampus size in humans. For example, a study of London taxi drivers found that the posterior portion of the hippocampus was larger in experienced taxi drivers than in other subjects. And a study of German medical students found that the same region of the hippocampus increased in size as they studied for their final exams.
Studies also have found that the hippocampus shrinks with age, a process that coincides with small but significant cognitive declines. The rate at which this occurs, however, differs among individuals.
Earlier studies found that exercise increases hippocampus size and spatial memory in rodents, but the new study is the first to demonstrate that exercise can affect hippocampus size and memory in humans.
The researchers, from the University of Illinois and the University of Pittsburgh, measured the cardiorespiratory fitness of 165 adults (109 of them female) between 59 and 81 years of age. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers conducted a volumetric analysis of the subjects’ left and right hippocampi. They also tested the participants’ spatial reasoning.
They found a significant association between an individual’s fitness and his or her performance on certain spatial memory tests. There was also a strong correlation between fitness and hippocampus size.
“The higher fit people have a bigger hippocampus, and the people that have more tissue in the hippocampus have a better spatial memory,” said U. of I. psychology professor Art Kramer, who led the study with Pittsburgh psychology professor Kirk Erickson.
“Even ignoring the hippocampus data, we see there is this significant and substantial relationship between how fit you are and how good your memory is, or at least a certain kind of memory, a certain kind of memory that we need all the time,” Kramer said.
“This is really a clinically significant finding because it supports the notion that your lifestyle choices and behaviors may influence brain shrinkage in old age,” Erickson said. “Basically, if you stay fit, you retain key regions of your brain involved in learning and memory.”
An impairment of spatial memory “is one of a number of reasons why older people end up losing their independence,” Kramer said. “Here is yet more evidence that becoming fit has implications for how well you’re going to live your life.”
Kramer is a full-time faculty member of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.
Editor’s notes: To reach Art Kramer, call: 217-333-9532; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy