Delayed Exercise After Learning May Improve Memory

Four people on stationary bikesRecent studies have linked exercise to better brain health. According to a new study published in Current Biology, exercising four hours after learning new information could improve memory and recall ability.

Does Exercise Improve Learning and Memory?

To test the effects of exercise on learning, researchers recruited 72 healthy volunteers. Each participant spent 40 minutes learning the location of 90 different objects on a screen, then underwent a test of performance right after the training.

Next, the team divided participants into three separate groups. One group immediately participated in a 35-minute interval training session on a stationary bike. A second group watched nature documentaries for four hours, then performed the same exercise routine. A third group also watched nature documentaries, but did not exercise at all.

To control for the role of time of day in the results, the researchers staggered the study so some participants began the routine at 9 a.m., and others began at noon.

Two days after the study, researchers again tested participants’ recall, adjusting for each participant’s initial score on the memory test. The group that exercised immediately after learning and the group that only watched nature documentaries had similar results on the memory tests. Those who delayed exercise for four hours had higher overall scores.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans revealed greater blood flow to the brain’s hippocampus in the group that participated in delayed exercise. The hippocampus is thought to play a significant role in memory and learning.

Although the study did not directly test why delayed exercise might improve performance, its authors suggest brain chemicals might play a role. Exercise increases production of dopamine, noradrenaline, and BDNF—a protein that promotes neuron growth. These chemicals can help the brain store and retrieve memories, but might not immediately help. Instead, the cascade of chemicals released by the brain during exercise might be most helpful sometime after learning, when the brain is consolidating memories.

Exercise, Learning, and Brain Health

Last year, another study suggested exercise could improve neuroplasticity. Other research suggests regular exercise could increase the size of the hippocampus. Some schools have even turned to exercise programs to help students learn more effectively. One recent study compared children who participated in normal lessons to those who engaged in physical activity alongside learning. After two years, the group that participated in physical activity had higher math and spelling scores.


  1. Can kids learn more when they exercise during lessons? (2016, February 24). Retrieved from
  2. Mole, B. (2016, June 19). For better recall, try a work out four hours after learning something. Retrieved from
  3. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills – Harvard Health Blog. (2014, April 09). Retrieved from
  4. Van Dongen, E. V., Kersten, I. H., Wagner, I. C., Morris, R. G., & Fernandez, G. (2016). Physical exercise performed four hours after learning improves memory retention and increases hippocampal pattern similarity during retrieval. Current Biology.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • corky


    June 21st, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    The keys are the you can never give up on learning and you have to stay active. Those are the things that you must do to lead a healthy life. I really don’t believe that there is going to be a huge difference in how much knowledge that you retain whether you exercise right after learning something new or not. Like I said, just keep the mind and the body both active and I think that you will see that you are just fine.

  • Mindy


    June 21st, 2016 at 5:50 PM

    aarrgghh!! and I thought that I was doing the right thing going to gym before class in the mornings!

  • Marshall


    June 23rd, 2016 at 3:08 PM

    Basically the long and short of this is don’t let either the mind or the body become too relaxed and sedentary.
    When at all possible keep moving and keep those memory muscles active as well.

  • laura j

    laura j

    June 26th, 2016 at 12:19 PM

    If I know up front that doing this in a certain order is going to be more beneficial to me then this is what Ia m goin to try life crazy to do. Why wouldn’t I want to make the most of my time and try to get the most out of my effort?

  • Marley


    June 27th, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    If there was some way that we could implement programs like this with success into our school system not only would our children be healthier overall, we could fight and win this battle against childhood obesity. On top of that they would learn more and retain more making the teachers stand out as the stars that they really are! Overall this is a win win situation for all!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.