Exercising four hours after learning something new could help you remember it, according to a new study.
Researchers found that physical exercise improved memory and memory traces after learning, but only if that exercise was done within a specific time frame.
Guillén Fernández, from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said the study “shows that we can improve memory consolidation by doing sports after learning”.
Interestingly, they discovered that exercise didn’t help boost memory if it was carried out immediately after learning. So hitting the gym immediately after that revision session is probably a bad move.
In the new study, researchers tested the effects of a single session of physical exercise, after learning, on memory consolidation and long-term memory.
The 72 study participants learned 90 picture-location associations over a period of approximately 40 minutes before being randomly assigned to one of three groups.
The first 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 a intensity.
After 48 hours, participants returned for a test to show how much they remembered while their brains were scanned via MRI.
The researchers found that 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.
“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 researchers concluded.
While it’s not yet clear exactly how or why delayed exercise has this effect on memory, previous studies suggest that naturally occurring chemical compounds in the body known as catecholamines, including dopamine and norepinephrine, can improve memory consolidation.
And one way to boost catecholamines is through physical exercise.
The researchers will now conduct a similar study to monitor the timing and molecular underpinnings of exercise and its influence on learning and memory in more detail.
Their study was published in the journal Current Biology.