PhotoStudents have come up with a million different strategies for remembering information for an important test or presentation, but new research shows that maybe all they had to do was take a trip to the gym.

In a new study conducted at the Donders Institute at the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, researchers found that engaging in physical exercise after learning something new helped participants retain the information. However, the timing of the exercise is important; researchers say that going to the gym four hours after learning something new is the time to shoot for.

“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,” they said.

Exercise to remember

Guillén Fernández, who led the study, and his colleagues began the study to see what, if any, benefits physical exercise could have on memory consolidation and long-term memory. They held a 40-minute learning period where they asked 72 participants to memorize 90 picture-location associations.

After this initial period, the researchers split the participants into three groups -- the first group exercised immediately after learning the information; the second group exercised four hours after learning the information; and the third group did not exercise at all.

The exercise was designed to be rigorous, but not completely exhausting. Participants took part in 35 minutes of interval training on a bike and aimed to reach 80% of their maximum heart rate. After the exercise period, participants were excused and asked to come back after 48 hours to be re-tested.

Brain chemicals

The results of the second testing showed that those who exercised four hours after the first testing were able to better retain the information. In addition to better test scores, the researchers measured brain activities for all participants and found that the delayed exercise group had more precise representations in the hippocampus – the brain area most responsible for memory and learning.

While Fernández and his colleagues cannot pinpoint how or why this group performed better, they believe that it has something to do with chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine that are found in the brain. Previous studies have shown that they help with memory consolidation, but they are produced at a higher rate when an individual is exercising.

The full study has been published in the journal Current Biology


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