Exercising after you learn new things might help you remember them, a small study suggests.
But the workout has to be done within a specific time window, and it can’t be immediately after learning, Dutch researchers said.
Their study involved 72 people who learned a series of picture-location associations. The participants were then assigned to one of three groups: exercising immediately after the learning session; exercising four hours after learning, and not exercising at all.
The workout involved 35 minutes of interval training on an exercise bike at an intensity of up to 80 percent of the participants’ maximum heart rates.
The study volunteers returned two days later to see how much they remembered from what they had learned. They also had an MRI.
Those who exercised four hours after the learning session retained the new information better two days later than those who exercised immediately after learning or those who didn’t exercise at all.
The study was published June 16 in the journal Current Biology.
“[Our findings show] that we can improve memory consolidation by doing sports after learning,” researcher Guillen Fernandez said in a journal news release. Fernandez is with the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University Medical Center, in the Netherlands.
It’s not clear how or why exercising a few hours after learning might help people retain new information. Previous research in animals found that exercise boosts levels of chemical compounds that improve memory consolidation, the researchers said.
“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,” Fernandez and his colleagues said.
Harvard Health has more on exercise, memory and thinking skills.