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Time Your Exercise Right to Improve Memory

Prepping for a presentation? A properly timed workout could be crucial to your success. Research has found that exercising four hours after performing a memory-related task may help people better retain information. Published in Current Biology, the study assigned 72 people to memorize 90 picture-location associations in about 40 minutes, and then tested them on their recall ability. Immediately after this test, researchers assigned the participants to three groups: the “immediate exercise” group performed 35 minutes of interval training on an exercise machine, followed by a four-hour period of quiet activity (watching nature documentaries); the “delayed exercise” group did the same thing but the order was reversed, the period of quiet activity came before the interval training; the third, “no exercise,” group didn’t perform any exercise. Forty-eight hours after the first recall test, the participants took the same test while receiving an MRI so researchers could understand how the exercise/no exercise intervention had affected their memory retention and brain activity. The researchers controlled for the time of day the tests were performed and other confounders and found that:

  • Memory retention was higher in the delayed exercise group than in the other two groups.
  • Memory retention was the same in the immediate exercise and no exercise groups.
  • Brain activity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory, was stronger in the delayed exercise group than in the other two groups.

This study is exciting because it suggests the timing of activities may play an important role in sealing memories: taking a quiet break and then exercising may be the best way to hold on to newly learned information. It also supports other research that has connected exercise with increased brain function; for example, one animal study associated exercise with increased hippocampal neurons in mice, and another human study found resistance training twice a week may promote brain health during aging. So, don’t forget to take some quiet time after studying and then get some exercise—it may help you remember!

Source: Current Biology

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