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Does Exercise Worsen or Improve Memory?


Exercise is widely considered to be an important part of any healthy lifestyle, but not all routines are created equal when it comes to cognitive performance and memory. Rather, the science is somewhat conflicted at points, and certain types of exercise can actually be detrimental to individuals who suffer from various conditions, including dementia.

Let’s take a look at two studies that provide a wealth of information regarding both the utility and risk of regular exercise, as well as how to adapt the findings to your particular needs, goals and lifestyle.

“Science is somewhat conflicted when it comes to exercise’s impact on cognitive function.”

Aerobics and memory
Heidi Godman, executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter, recently published a post in Harvard Health Publishing in which she broke down some of the findings of a new study that linked aerobic exercise to better memory performance. According to the author, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise helped to increase the total mass of the hippocampus, thus strengthening learning ability, recall and other cognitive functions.

Importantly, she pointed out that the subjects of the study underwent roughly two hours of moderate exercise each week, mostly involving a “brisk walk,” and physical science experts suggest increasing that to about 150 minutes broken down into 30-minute intervals five times per week. The important thing is to maintain a low-impact routine that will not injure or strain joints and muscles, but rather get the heart beating a bit faster and provoke perspiration.

Other studies in the past have shown excessive anaerobic exercise like heavy weightlifting could actually hinder brain health. On the other hand, most research involving aerobic exercise has turned up positive results with respect to the impact on cognitive function.

Interestingly enough, Godman connected the study to other findings regarding the frequency of dementia diagnoses increasing over time, and that a projected 115 million individuals will suffer from the condition globally by 2050. In direct opposition to the above findings, another study appeared to reveal that exercise could make matters worse for those who are living with dementia.

Cognitive function is impacted in different ways by exercise. Cognitive function is impacted in different ways by exercise.

A new angle
The Telegraph reported that researchers from Oxford University discovered that a high rate of individuals who exercised at the gym for an average of 180 minutes per week and had dementia experienced a more rapid decline in their cognitive abilities. The study’s leaders argued that while the findings were not necessarily conclusive, they did have enough evidence to suggest that dementia patients should not partake in this level of exercise for the time being.

According to the news provider, exercise has always been understood as a lifestyle intervention method to reduce cognitive decline among individuals living with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. However, researchers are not seeking more clarity following the publication of this study.

“Had this been instead an improvement in cognitive functioning with exercise we would all have been excited about finding something positive in the, so far, depressing fight against dementia,” University of London professor Rob Howard explained. “On this basis, I don’t think we should ignore the possibility that exercise might actually be slightly harmful to people with dementia.”

The Telegraph noted that Oxford University is calling for more research to better understand this relatively strange, negative connection between exercise and cognitive function. At Hallelujah Diet we have found that while exercise does put a strain on the body, a diet rich in vegetables and fruits provides the antioxidants and phytonutrients to counteract that strain. Without replenishing the body with superior nutrition exercise can be detrimental.

Everyone is different
Whether suffering from dementia or enjoying strong cognitive function, each individual is different and will likely experience varied impacts of exercise on their memory and ability to learn. This is why getting personalized, professional guidance is so important. Speak to your health care provider to understand your best path forward, and check out some of our healthy options to improve your health.


  1. T Black July 3, 2018

    Wow… We have always been told that exercise is important for improving our health. It is interesting that it may possibly not be the best option for those suffering with dementia. I agree that communicating with your healthcare provider is the best way to make the most educated decisions regarding your options.

  2. Angela Solomon July 10, 2018

    Very intersting artcle!

  3. Annette July 30, 2018

    This was a good Blog. Very important information about walking and exercise in general. Thanks

  4. CarolynBCalhoun July 31, 2018

    Amazing and informative blog. Had always thought the exercise was great for your mind and everything…now it seems it may be detremental to those facing dementia. Still believe that a brisk walk is good for your whole system. Eye opening article.

  5. “If we remember to eat our 12 to 14 fresh fruits and vegetables a day then well be healthier in brain activity then those that forget(little pun intended). Eating from the ground and being an extreme workout person I can see what they mean. When I have eaten something not good after my exercise I can pull a muscle and my thinking is not clear. Exercise restores the system and if we’re eating right then our mental and physical capabilities are better. At my older age I am wise not to work out as hard after a celebration. What’s interesting was that on easter it was the first time I worked out hard the next morning as I ate so well with just me and my son instead of family celebration and emotional crappy eating…ha!!! My teenager needs to recoup more due to not always eating all his fresh garden, so I have learned to be patient after exercise knowing he needs to recoup more than his old healthy dad!!ha!!!

  6. I honestly think that people with dementia just need to realize they are not healthy and slowly eat their better diet change and exercise. The brisk walk to a jog to a run is best going gradually as we add more fresh items daily to change the system and not shock it!!

  7. Jennifer April 15, 2020

    This is very interesting. I would have never thought exercise might not be good for certain people.

  8. Great information, excersicing is so important to a healthy lifestyle along with eating a proper diet.

  9. Margaret April 15, 2020

    This sounds contradicting to what everyone has been saying for years . The article should also address how far out are these people on this study there was such a significant decline . The whole idea is to eat a plant based diet and do some form of exercise before the person gets dementia. It’s a interesting article but I think there’s more to this . How about a study with how exercise helps build the hippocampus and new neurons . There’s a lot of those . I do think if a persons is to far gone then workouts will be to much for them. You also don’t have to run a marathon to be healthy. Daily walks wether there just casual or brisk is better then sitting on a couch all day.

  10. Interesting information. I can see that excessive exercise can be detrimental as well as exercise without a healthy diet. For most people, I think exercise is excellent for the body and mental health.

  11. You cannot realize a state of health unless you’re physically and mentally fit. However, you can achieve physical fitness and still be in a highly pathological state. Fitness and health are not synonymous terms. You can be fit and not healthy but you can never be healthy without fitness.
    A vigorous activity/fitness program confers many benefits that contribute to health and well-being but cannot, of itself, insure health. The enormous benefits of activity or exercise can be negative to a great extent if dietary and other practices are pathological rather than healthful.

  12. Angela Holland January 21, 2022

    This is great, Exercise is good for many different reasons.

  13. I’m going to remember — you cannot be healthy without exercise.

    Someone else one said — If you say you do not have time to exercise, you better make time to be sick.

    It is always a good reminder to make physical exercise a priority along with a healthy diet.

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