Moderate Exercise May Improve Memory In Type 2 Diabetes

| January 24, 2017

It is a well-known fact that new gym memberships peak in the first week of January. And that half of the people who sign up stop attending about three weeks later. So, if you’re feeling bad that your New Year resolution isn’t working out quite as you had hoped, take some comfort from new research that suggests even moderate physical activity could improve your memory.

The study was carried out with rats, which is why I say “suggests” rather than “proves”, but the results are likely to apply to humans, too. People (and rats) with type 2 diabetes often suffer a complication of the condition, called hippocampal memory dysfunction. The hippocampus is a part of the brain where memories of places and events are stored and retrieved.

Diabetic rats took longer than healthy ones to remember and find the location of a platform in a swimming tank that enabled them to get out of the water. But after four weeks of moderate exercise they learned to do so almost as quickly as the non-diabetic control group.1 The researchers also showed that this improvement in spatial memory was associated with chemical changes in the rats’ brains.

Tests showed that the diabetic rats had more glycogen than normal in the hippocampal region of their brains. That’s the substance that is normally stored in the liver, for conversion into glucose when needed. But after only a single bout of moderate exercise, glycogen levels dropped, while levels of lactate increased. Other studies have shown that the conversion of glycogen to lactate in the brain improves memory creation.

Translating what constitutes moderate exercise for a lab rat into human terms isn’t always easy. But an earlier study with healthy adults aged 60 to 75 found that doing moderate aerobic exercise, such as taking a brisk walk, three times a week increased their hippocampus size and improved their memory.2 So, if you can’t rustle up the enthusiasm for a workout at the gym, taking a walk in the park could be just as beneficial for your memory.

In my next blog post I’ll be looking at other new findings that reveal exactly why physical activity reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and helps blood sugar control in those with the condition.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Shima T, Matsui T, Jesmin S et al. Moderate exercise ameliorates dysregulated hippocampal glycometabolism and memory function in a rat model of type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2016 Dec 8. (Online ahead of print)

2. Erickson KI, Voss MW, Prakash RS et al. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011; 108(7):3017-3022.

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