Do you often find yourself with a word or name of a person just on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t recall it?This is happening more and more as the “Baby Boomer” population grows older. This group generally consists of those born between the years 1946 and 1964. These are the significant years just after World War II.Part of the memory problem is the result of a part of your brain shrinking, the hippocampus. This is a normal part of the ongoing aging activity, but a new study suggests that with moderate exercise we can increase the size of the hippocampus.The hippocampus is responsible for a number of functions such as emotion, behavior, olfaction (smell) and long-term memory.But the study shows that moderate aerobic activity can improve memory performance. The study was sponsored in part by the National Institutes of Health and published in the January 31, 2011 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.In the research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh 120 sedentary older adults without dementia were randomly placed into two groups. The first group did daily stretching and resistance training, while the second group did a 40-minute walk around a track three times a week.What researchers found after one year was that the aerobic group – those who walked – showed on average a 2 percent increase in the hippocampus volume.The other group, however, reflected a drop in hippocampus volume of about 1.4 percent.Both groups demonstrated enhanced spatial memory during testing, but there was an important correlation between the increased size of the hippocampus and improved memory activity among the walkers.Another indicator that exercise may improve memory is that researchers found an increase in a small molecule that is important to memory and learning, brain-derived-neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This correlates to an increase in the size of the hippocampus.The result suggests that in only one year of moderate aerobic activity older adults who have been inactive may be able to either stop or reverse age-related atrophy of the hippocampus.Another study on exercise and improvement in memory and cognition echoed the results of the University of Pittsburgh study.Science researcher H. van Prag reported in the 2009 issue of Trends in Neuroscience that exercise is the strongest stimulus for creating new neurons (neurogenesis) in the brain and improving cognition. Moreover, much of the neurogenesis occurs in the hippocampus of the brain.He goes on to state that his studies show that the effect of exercise is maintained throughout life if exercise is done regularly.Finally, researchers C.H. Hillman and his colleagues in a 2008 study exercise and its effect on the brain agree that the hippocampus cell creation is the most consistently observed effect from exercise and can occur at all life stages.So stop trying to see answers on the tip of your tongue and go out for a brisk walk. The answer will come to you.ReferencesHillman, C.H., Erickson, K.I, and Kramer, A. F. (2008). Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(1), 58-65.van Prag, H. (2009). Exercise and the brain: something to chew on. Trends in Neuroscience, 32(5), 283-290.