Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC)

Improve Your Menopause Memory With Exercise

If you think that as you get older your brain cells slowly die and there is nothing that you can do about it – you’re wrong!

There is a way to create new brain cells … aerobic exercise!

Aerobic exercise can create new brain cells in the region of the brain that is critical for memory – the hippocampus. It’s the hippocampus where learning new information and retaining it takes place. In fact, it’s where Alzheimer’s disease begins.

The Salk Institute in La Jolla can be thanked for discovering the initial link between exercise and new brain cell growth. Researchers compared adult mice who ran on hamster wheels to those who didn’t. The mice who ran on the wheels developed significantly more new brain cells in the hippocampus.

But the key here is that the exercise must be aerobic!

To improve your menopause memory you need to get out there and huff and puff. Increasing blood flow and getting oxygen to the brain is how this all works. With increased blood flow to the brain comes more oxygen and more growth factors from all over the body that contribute to the birth of new cells, including brain cells. And, as I tell my patients, walking the dog and stopping at every tree doesn’t count as aerobic. You’ve got to break a sweat at least 150 minutes a week. This can be broken up into smaller chunks of time, like 20-25 mintues a day or 50 minutes three times a week. For brain cell growth, the magic really seems to happen after exercising regularly between 3 and 6 weeks.

Now, I know exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea– finding the right form exercise is critical to both staying injury-free and motivated. My favorite form of aerobic exercise is the elliptical machine. It was designed to be easy on the knees and you can use it rain or shine. With your arms and legs going and your ipod plugged into 80s music, you can feel like you’re dancing. The problem is that you may also feel like singing. As my husband likes to point out, I may be wearing headphones but he isn’t. If you have balance problems or physical difficulties, you can try a recumbent elliptical machine. You sit while working out so there’s no danger of falling. My patients have told me that they used them in physical therapy and were hooked in no time. If you have access to a pool (an indoor pool if you’re in those chilly climates), you can also try jogging in the water.

When the weather is nice (or if you don’t want to buy a piece of exercise equipment that costs more than your first car) power walking is a great form of aerobic exercise. Bend those arms, pump them like pistons, bend the knees and step lightly heel to toe to save your knees. You may look like you urgently need a restroom, but just think of those new brain cells…and toned legs!

So stop complaining about your menopause memory, get an okay from your doctor and get out there! Aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for to keep your brain fit.


Dr. Carol McCleary's website can be found at MenopauseMind.com