Recent 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.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.
- Can kids learn more when they exercise during lessons? (2016, February 24). Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-children-fitness-learning-idUSKCN0VX26V
- Mole, B. (2016, June 19). For better recall, try a work out four hours after learning something. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/06/for-better-recall-try-a-work-out-four-hours-after-learning-something/
- Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills – Harvard Health Blog. (2014, April 09). Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
- 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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.071
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