You Can Improve Verbal and Spatial Memory in Older Adults with Fun. Here’s How.

When we think of improving memory, we think of performing memorization exercises, digital cognitive therapy exercises, and working on memory worksheets for adults. However, there is more than practicing memorization strategies for improving memory, and researchers have found a fun way to improve both verbal and spatial memory in older adults.

The secret? Exercise.

You may think of exercise as something dreaded like a long treadmill session, but you can encourage your clients to exercise in fun ways such as by playing a team sport, going for hikes in nature to bathe in a forest, swimming, or partaking in a group exercise class. Activities that allow your older clients to increase their heart rate as well as get in some strength training can help improve their verbal and spatial memory skills.

In a study of 86 women between the ages of 70-80 years old, researchers were interested in which physical activities would benefit memory performance in older adults. Participants performed physical activity that consisted of either aerobic exercise, resistance training, or balance exercises twice per week for 60 minutes per session. Researchers found that both aerobic exercise and resistance training had positive effects on verbal and spatial memory in older women. Discussion suggests that more frequent physical activity can have a stronger impact on improving memory in older adults.

Why is exercise so beneficial? 

Because our brain receives nutrients from our bloodstreams, exercise helps us promote healthy blood flow. Exercise also increases the production of BDNF, which helps promote neural growth. After moderate physical activity, we experience an endorphin release, which helps relax us and may give some people a “runner’s high”.

What does this mean for your older clients?

You should work with your older clients on finding ways to incorporate physical activity regularly into their day. Ensure that your clients have clearance from their primary care physician before having them start an exercise program. Ways to incorporate physical activity daily include walking for 10 minutes at a time, taking the stairs instead of the elevator when possible, and doing light bouts of circuit training throughout the day. You can work with your client to find an ideal way for them to incorporate physical activity into their day to help them achieve their cognitive and physical therapy goals.


Memory goes beyond sticky-notes. Research suggests that regular aerobic exercise and resistance training can improve verbal and spatial memory in older adults. Exercise has many physical health benefits, but researchers are beginning to uncover how exercise positively impacts the brain. You can work with your client on finding ways that they can incorporate physical activity into their daily lives safely.

Nagamatsu, L. S., Chan, A., Davis, J. C., Beattie, B. L., Graf, P., Voss, M. W., … & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2013). Physical activity improves verbal and spatial memory in older adults with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomized controlled trial. Journal of aging research, 2013.
Dustin Luchmee

Dustin was HappyNeuron's Product Specialist. With research experience in stroke, Dustin learned how a stroke can change someone's life. He also learned how different kinds of therapists can work together to help a person get better. He is passionate about neuro-rehabilitation and finding the active ingredients for effective therapy.

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