Grow your hippocampus. Grow your memory.

Author: Amy Wildeman

Now you might be thinking to yourself “What on Earth is a hippocampus?” well, let me tell you! The hippocampus is a seahorse shaped nucleus that lies deep in the temporal lobe, which is part of your brain (Martini., 2018).  This part of your brain helps to form, organize and store long term memories (McKinley., 2017).

Unfortunately, as the hippocampus deteriorates in late adulthood, this may lead to memory impairment (Erickson et al. 2011).  The hippocampus shrinks 1-2% yearly in adults who do not have dementia (Raz et al. 2005). That’s a lot. However, the hippocampus can be re-grown through exercise, which increases learning, retention, and spatial awareness memory (Erickson et al. 2011).  Regular exercise has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus (Erickson et al. 2011). You really can grow part of your brain!  Furthermore, exercise is a low-cost way to increase neurocognitive function with few side effects (Erickson et al. 2011).

What type of exercise do you need to do?

Aerobic exercise was shown to increase both the left and right side of the hippocampus by 2.12% and 1.97% after one year, respectively (Erickson et al. 2011).  By doing moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in late adulthood, the hippocampus volume loss is reversible or preventable (Erickson et al. 2011).  Furthermore, while you are growing your hippocampus, you are also improving your fitness levels! There is a correlation between hippocampal volume and aerobic fitness. Basically, the more aerobic fitness improvement, the more volume growth in the hippocampus (Erickson et al. 2011).  Aerobic fitness has its own benefits as well. These include: a reduced risk of hypertension, diabetes, and stroke; prevention of weight gain; and improvement of the cardiorespiratory system (for example you won’t be out of breath after walking up one flight of stairs) (Heyward & Gibson. 2014).

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise means that the mode exercise requires oxygen (NASM., 2018), most people would consider it cardiorespiratory training or “cardio”.  This can include a variety of activities such as:

  • Brisk walking or jogging or running
  • Cycling or bike riding or spin class
  • Swimming
  • Dancing or Zumba
  • Playing squash or racquetball
  • Downhill skiing
  • Playing basketball
  • And many more!

The important part is finding an activity you love to get you moving.  This can be done on your own, with someone else, or even with a pet!

How much exercise is needed?

The Erickson et al, 2011 study showed that doing aerobic exercise 3 days a week, for 40 minutes is the ideal. However, if 40 minutes is too much for you to exercise right now, there is no need to give up. Start exercising for 10 minutes a day. You can do something easy to start with for example go for a walk around the block. After that, increase your time by 5 minutes each week, and amp up the activity intensity! Remember to make sure you have a good warm up before your activity, and a quick cool down. Warming up before activity will start the increase blood flow to your heart and muscles, and decrease chance of injury (Heyward & Gibson. 2014). Cool down is especially important after aerobic activity because it will help bring your heart rate and blood pressure back down, which will prevent dizziness and fainting (Heyward & Gibson. 2014).

So, while you may think that you are too old to start exercising, there are a variety of health benefits, even for your brain.

Name and bio

Amy Wildeman

I am a personal fitness trainer student at NAIT.  I have a passion for rock climbing, Olympic style lifting, and photography.  I love spending time outside doing activities and trying new sports!


Erickson, K. I., Voss, M. W., Prakash, R. S., Basak, C., Szabo, A., Chaddock, L.,…Kramer, A. F. (February, 2011). Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS); Volume 108, Issue , Pages 3017-3022. Retrieved from:

Heyward, V. H., & Gibson, A. L. (2014). Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription (7th Edition). Windsor, ON: Human Kinetics.

Martini, Tallitsch, & Nath. (2018). Human Anatomy (Ninth Edition). Glenview, IL: Pearson Education Inc.

McKinley, O’Looughlin, & Pennefather-Obrien. (2017). Human Anatomy (Fifth Edition). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

National Academy of Sports Medicine. (2018).  NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (Sixth Edition). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Raz, N., Lindenberger, U., Rodrigue, K. M., Kennedy, K. M., Head, D., Williamson, A.,…Acker, J. D. (November, 2005). Regional Brain Changes in Aging Healthy Adults: General Trends, Individual Differences and Modifiers. Cerebral Cortex; Volume 15, Issue 11, Pages 1676–1689. Retrieved from:


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