It's pretty obvious that exercise is beneficial for the body, but evidence continues to mount that exercise is also beneficial for the mind. In addition to reducing stress and anxiety, new research shows that even a small amount of exercise can significantly improve your memory. With people living longer and facing more horrifying memory issues, like Alzheimer's disease, it's a relief to hear that even such a minor lifestyle intervention can do some good.
Psychologists at the Georgia Institute of Technology conducted research to refine the previous finding that regular aerobic exercise benefits memory over a period of months or years. For this experiment, they exposed a subgroup of their experimental participants to just 20 minutes or less of physical exertion (50 leg presses) prior to giving them a memory test. Even this single episode of exercise seems to have improved memory considerably: participants who did the leg presses remembered about 20 percent more of the memory test items than did the members of the "passive" (no exercise) control group.
Why does exercise (even briefly on just one occasion) improve performance on memory-related tasks? The answer probably has to do with norepinephrine. This hormone is released when a human feels stress, and it supercharges memory formation surrounding the stressful event (this is why you remember events on the day of a breakup five years ago much better than you remember a randomly-selected day). Even brief (and voluntary) exercise gets interpreted by the body as stress, as evidenced by elevated levels of norepinephrine in the saliva of the Georgia Tech researchers' exercise group. Probably the evolutionary explanation is that organisms survive better when they learn from dangerous experiences. Put this evolved response to work for you!
Walking is better for your mental health than driving, so lace up those sneakers to slash anxiety and boost your memory at the same time. Walking throughout the day can reverse arterial damage from long periods of inactivity, so you should really be getting yourself moving more already anyways. Think you're too busy to exercise? Think again. Even just a few minutes of movement at night before you go to bed can be helpful. Contrary to popular belief, there is evidence to suggest that exercising before bed won't interfere with your sleep — so you can squeeze in some crunches or light weight work while you watch television before hitting the hay.
So get moving! Seriously guys... no excuses.