Ways to Improve Memory in Seniors

Improve Memory in Seniors

A Combination of Brief High-Intensity Exercise and Environmental Enrichment Improves Memory in Seniors

It’s long been known that seniors benefit significantly from engaging in mild-to-moderate physical activity every day, even if this mainly consists of taking walks. Doing so maintains and improves cardiovascular health, helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and enhances mood. In addition, a study found that intervals of high-intensity activity have substantial positive effects on memory in this age group.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

This exercise program includes short periods of demanding activity alternating with mild-to-moderate exertion. The lower-level exertion is known as the recovery period.

The intense exercise can be performed briefly, for only 30 to 90 seconds. Depending on the individual and the intensity level, these intervals could be a few minutes instead. HIIT workouts generally last 15 to 30 minutes. This training can be done a few times a week, but it shouldn’t occur on consecutive days.

The study, completed by McMasters University researchers, appeared in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. Participants were healthy but sedentary and in the age range of 60 to 88 years old.

One group completed HIIT sessions, and another did continuous training at a moderate level. A control group only conducted stretching exercises.

On average, the moderate training and stretching groups did not experience memory improvements. In contrast, HIIT participants experienced up to 30-percent improvement in their memory performance.

The specific exercise for the HIIT group was four minutes of a fast-paced treadmill workout followed by a recovery time. Participants completed four sets per session and three sessions per week.

Why It Works

The brain produces new, more active neurons during exercise than older ones. This process, known as neurogenesis, makes it easier for the brain to form new memories. The cells develop in the hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial for learning and memory. Vigorous exercise is essential for this type of cognitive enhancement.

Examples of HIIT Possibilities

Seniors who belong to a fitness center or have one available in their senior community can design a HIIT program using equipment there. For instance, they might perform a fast workout on an elliptical machine for 30 seconds and then pedal in a more relaxed way for a longer interval.

Using gym equipment certainly isn’t necessary, however. For example, a relatively leisurely bike ride can include brief intervals of higher gear usage and faster pedaling. Likewise, people who like swimming can swim a few moderate-paced laps alternating with one fast lap.

The interval timing doesn’t have to be precise. In an interview published in McMaster’s publication Brighter World, the 2019 study’s lead author suggests taking walks that include some uphill climbs. During a walk without hills, the person can pick up the pace occasionally, enough so that having a conversation would be difficult.

The Importance of Environmental Enrichment

Although exercise boosts the rate of neurogenesis, a large number of new neurons typically don’t last very long. So to increase the number that survives and become incorporated into the brain structure, people need to regularly do activities involving environmental enrichment. This was explained in a study appearing in Frontiers in Psychology.

Environmental enrichment includes accepting challenges and opportunities and participating in mentally stimulating activities. Although people may mainly be familiar with environmental enrichment to companion animals and those kept in zoos, it’s highly beneficial for humans.

A broad range of activities is considered enriching. The challenge may be as significant as starting a new job. On the other hand, it could be a medium-level change like starting a new hobby. Simply reading an exciting book qualifies. Attending workshops, having stimulating discussions with friends, and walking through a park where the person has never been before are other examples.


It’s essential to be realistic about physical ability when beginning this exercise program. People who have been sedentary should start slowly and gradually build up the intensity and timing. Some will need to start with moderate aerobic activity for a few weeks before progressing to more strenuous exercise. If in doubt, it’s always best to schedule a medical checkup first to make sure a vigorous exercise program is advisable.

Concluding Thoughts

By combining HIIT sessions a few days a week with environmental enrichment activities, seniors have the chance to experience noticeable memory improvements. In addition, the variety of possibilities makes it easy for people to find physical exercises and mentally stimulating options they enjoy. Starting slowly with fitness activity is essential for people who have been living a sedentary lifestyle. Then, they can gradually build to a more intense exercise level and appreciate physical and cognitive health benefits.

Do you need memory care services in Anchorage, Alaska?

This website uses cookies to securely improve your browsing experience.