A new study shows that one year of moderate physical exercise can increase the size of the brain's hippocampus in older adults, leading to an improvement in spatial memory.



The project - conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois, Rice University, and Ohio State University - is considered the first study of its kind focusing on older adults who are already experiencing atrophy of the hippocampus, the brain structure involved in all forms of memory formation. The study, funded through the National Institute on Aging, appears in the Jan. 31 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).



The scientists recruited 120 sedentary older people without dementia and randomly placed them in one of two groups - those who began an exercise regimen of walking around a track for 40 minutes a day, three days a week, or those limited to stretching and toning exercises. Magnetic resonance images were collected before the intervention, after six months, and at the end of the one-year study.



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