A new study suggests physical exercise after learning improves memory and memory traces, but only if the exercise is done in a specific time window and not immediately after learning.
Scientists tested the effects of a single session of physical exercise after learning on memory consolidation and long-term memory.
Seventy-two people learned 90 picture-location associations over a period of approximately 40 minutes before being randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group performed exercise immediately, the second performed exercise four hours later, and the third did not perform any exercise.
The exercise consisted of 35 minutes of interval training on an exercise bike at an intensity of up to 80 percent of participants’ maximum heart rates.
Forty-eight hours later, participants returned for a test to show how much they remembered while their brains were scanned.
The researchers found those who exercised four hours after their learning session retained the information better two days later than those who exercised either immediately or not at all.
The brain images also showed that exercise after a time delay was associated with more precise representations in the hippocampus, an area important to learning and memory, when an individual answered a question correctly.
“It shows we can improve memory consolidation by doing sports after learning,” said Dutch researcher Guillén Fernández.
“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 findings are published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.