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September 8, 2016 • Brain Health, Fitness

When to Exercise to Enhance Learning


Want a nifty way to boost your memory for something you’ve just learned? Exercise four hours later. In an intriguing new study scientists were able to show that exercise four hours after learning new material significantly improved retention and memory consolidation. For this study scientist had 72 study subjects learn a series of picture-location associations over a 40-minute study period. Study subjects were then assigned to one of three groups: group one exercised immediately after the study session, group two exercised four hours later, and group three did no exercise. The exercise session included 35 minutes of intervals on a stationary bike at 80 percent max heart rate. Two days later all study subjects took a test to determine how much they remembered from the learning session, while their brains were simultaneously imaged to measure areas of brain activity. Those who exercised four hours after learning scored highest on the test, and their brain scans exhibited greater activation in the memory area of the brain when they answered questions correctly.

Bottom line—hundreds of published studies have shown that physical activity at any time benefits brain health, but for remembering new learned material, four hours later may be the sweet spot. Afterschool sports may be a fantastic “educational” activity too. (Current Biology, 2016 DOI: 10. 1016/j.cub.2016.04.071)