Even short periods of exercise help you learn and remember

  • A small study of young adults found that 10 minutes of light exercise improved memory for details and increased relevant brain activity.
  • Another study found that 15 minutes of more intense exercise after learning a new motor skill resulted in better skill performance a day later.

Ten minutes of light exercise boosts memory

Following rat studies, a study involving 36 healthy young adults has found that 10 minutes of light exercise (such as tai chi, yoga, or walking) significantly improved highly detailed memory processing and resulted in increased activity in the hippocampus.

It also boosted connectivity between the hippocampus and cortical regions that support detailed memory processing (parahippocampal, angular, and fusiform gyri), and the degree of improvement in this connectivity predicted the extent of this memory improvement for an individual.

The memory task involved remembering details of pictures of objects from everyday life, some of which were very similar to other pictures, requiring participants to distinguish between the different memories.

Mood change was also assessed, and the researchers ruled out this as a cause of the improved memory.


Exercise after learning helps you master new motor skills

Another recent study found that 15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise after learning a new motor skill resulted in better skill learning when tested a day later.

Exercise was also found to decrease desynchronization in beta brainwaves and increase their connectivity between hemispheres. The degree of improvement in skill learning reflected changes in beta-wave desynchronization. It appears that exercise helped the brain become more efficient in performing the skill.

The motor skill consisted of gripping an object akin to a gamers' joystick and using varying degrees of force to move a cursor up and down to connect red rectangles on a computer screen as quickly as possible.

Note that there was no difference between the two groups (those who exercised and those who didn’t) 8 hours after learning — the difference didn’t appear until after participants had slept. Sleep helps consolidate skill learning.




Suwabe, K. 2018. Rapid stimulation of human dentate gyrus function with acute mild exercise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2018, 115 (41) 10487-10492; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1805668115

[4398] Dal Maso, F., Desormeau B., Boudrias M-H., & Roig M.
(2018).  Acute cardiovascular exercise promotes functional changes in cortico-motor networks during the early stages of motor memory consolidation.
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