Physical Exercise After Learning Promotes Hippocampus-dependent Memory Retention

HealthDay News — Physical activity after learning might help improve retention of new information, but the exercise has to be done within a specific time window, and it can’t be immediately after learning, according to a study published online in Current Biology.

The 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% of the participants’ maximum heart rates.

The study volunteers returned 2 days later to see how much they remembered from what they had learned. They also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers found that the participants who exercised 4 hours after the learning session retained the new information better 2 days later than those who exercised immediately after learning or those who didn’t exercise at all. Additionally, brain imaging showed that exercise after a time delay was associated with more precise representations in the hippocampus when an individual answered a question correctly.

“[Our findings show] that we can improve memory consolidation by doing sports after learning,” researcher Guillén Fernández, MD, of the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said in a journal news release.

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van Dongen EV, Kersten IHP, Wagner IC, et al. Physical exercise performed four hours after learning improves memory retention and increases hippocampal pattern similarity during retrieval. Current Biology. 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.071.