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Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Exercise at the right time can boost your memory


We all know exercise is good for our bodies, and new research is showing that aerobic exercise—the kind that gets you breathing hard and your heart pumping—can reinforce learning and play a role in storing information in long-term memory. 

A recent study at Radboud University in The Netherlands and the University of Edinburgh found that exercise performed four hours after a learning task boosted the subjects’ ability to remember the learned material. 

The researchers had 72 healthy adult men and women spend 40 minutes observing pictures on a computer screen and asked them to remember the locations of the pictures. The subjects then watched a nature documentary film. Immediately afterward, some of the participants did vigorous exercise on stationary bicycles for 35 minutes. Others did the interval training four hours later, and a final group did no exercise. 

Two days later, all of the subjects were asked to recall the picture locations. The participants who performed exercise four hours after learning were better able to remember the picture associations than those who exercised immediately afterward or who did not exercise. 

“Our results suggest that appropriately timed physical exercise can improve long-term memory and highlight the potential of exercise as an intervention in educational and clinical settings,” the researchers wrote in the study, published in July 2016 in the journal Current Biology. 

When the subjects came in to the lab for the second part of the test, their brain activity was monitored by an MRI. The brains of people who exercised four hours after learning showed consistent patterns of neural activity in the hippocampus—the part of the brain involved in memory and learning—that were subtly different from those of the other two groups.

The researchers think that the body produces substances during exercise that help to improve memory, but they aren’t sure why waiting four hours to exercise made such a difference in the subjects’ memory. They plan on continuing to study why that is true and what type and intensity of exercise is best for retaining information. 

The study was one of several recent experiments that are focusing on the relationship between exercise and memory. 

A study at the University of British Columbia found that the hippocampus in people who do regular aerobic exercise, such as riding an exercise bike, is larger in comparison to people who don’t perform aerobic exercise. Other studies have shown that additional regions of the brain that play a role in thinking and memory also grow larger in people who perform moderate-intensity, regular exercise such as brisk walking. Those results can show up in six months to a year. 

That’s why researchers at the Harvard Medical School are saying it’s important to get your heart pumping several times a week. Besides other health benefits—reducing insulin resistance and inflammation that contribute to chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease—regular exercise may help improve the health of your brain. 

And if you want to learn something, try studying, wait a few hours, and then jump on the exercise bike.

 

 


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