Memory Loss Prevention: Exercise the Mind

February 4, 2020

Moderate exercise of just four hours over the course of the week can lower your risk of developing cogitative degenerative disease like dementia or Alzheimer’s by 20%, according to research cited by Dr. Raheem Paxton during his presentation as part of the Mini Medical School program, a collaboration of the College of Community Health Sciences and The University of Alabama OLLI program. That’s roughly three years of cognitive age-related depletion prevented.

Raheem Paxton

Studies have shown that when compared to mice living in cages with nothing more than water and food, those living in enriched environment and running wheels have a larger hippocampus as well as hippocampus neurogenesis. Similar findings have been shown in older adults. Paxton, Associate Professor in the College’s Department of Community Medicine and Population Health, cited numerous research studies during his talk on Jan. 21, 2020.

Older adults who engage in regular exercise, specifically aerobic and resistance training are associated with less age-related memory, hippocampus and white and grey matter loss. Paxton said there are many theories as to why physical activity has such a positive effect on cognition. Stress reduction, increased blood flow, increased oxygen to the heart and brain and improved processing speed are just a few.

man running -- couch to 5k

“Sitting is the new smoking, it really is,” Paxton said. A sedentary lifestyle has been proven to cause physical and mental degeneration. “Even standing for two minutes every hour can help,” he said.

Ideally, exercise would start early in life and be an ongoing presence. However, Paxton said it is never too late to start exercising. Even in the oldest populations studied, increasing activity can improve cognitive function.

While exercise has been shown to prevent cognitive loss, it has not been shown to bring back what has already been lost. So, early prevention is key, Paxton said.

Paxton’s research focuses on the development, implementation and evaluation of theory-based physical activity and dietary intervention for at-risk and underserved populations such as older adults. As the population ages, his research will increase in demand, and he asked that anyone interested in being a part of his ongoing cognition research to contact him at

The Mini Medical School program has been put on by faculty and resident physicians of the College since 2016. It provides an opportunity for adults and community learners to explore trends in medicine and health, and the lectures offer important information about issues and advances in medicine and research.