Aerobic exercise may improve memory

Washington: Scientists including one of Indian origin found that areas of the brain responsible for pain processing and cognitive performance changed in fibromyalgia patients who exercised following a medication holiday.

The researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center said the changes indicate brain functioning is more streamlined after an exercise intervention because less of the brain’s resources are devoted to processing bothersome fibromyalgia perceptions such as pain.

They observed a decrease in brain activity in areas responsible for memory and pain control after fibromyalgia patients took part in an exercise regimen.

Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, disordered sleep, and cognitive changes.

It is regarded as an interoceptive disorder in that it has no apparent cause, said Brian Walitt, M.D. M.P.H., director of the Fibromyalgia Evaluation and Research Centre at Georgetown University Medical Centre and senior study author.

“The decreased brain activity we see in the area of cognition suggests that the brain is working more efficiently,” explained Walitt.

“We also see less brain activity in areas responsible for pain processing which might be aiding that efficiency,” he stated.

Walitt cautions that more research needs to be conducted before suggesting a change in clinical care for fibromyalgia.

The research team used fMRI to “provide a definitive measure of cognitive functioning, so that we can more scientifically measure the effect of exercise. This is a novel approach to the study of fibromyalgia,” stated Manish Khatiwada, M.S., who will be presenting the results.

In the study involving eighteen women with fibromyalgia, memory and pain typically worsen in patients after stopping their medication.

But after six weeks of aerobic exercise, however, patients reported an improvement in overall well-being.

However, their performance in the memory task did not change significantly when compared to their baseline study measurements. Despite a change in memory test performance, brain activity in the memory task and pain processing areas of the brain decreased.

“What we see is a less interference by pain activity which could be contributing to the decrease in activity in the memory section. Basically, the brain is using less energy for the same task,” Walitt added.

The study has been presented at the Society of Neuroscience’s annual meeting, Neuroscience 2011.


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