A rusty memory may spell trouble for students, leading to failed exams and plummeting grades.

But fret not: new research suggests that working out four hours after studying may help you improve your long-term memory and retain new information.

Experts from the Donders Institute in the Netherlands' Radboud University Medical Center discovered that people who exercise four hours after finishing a learning task had better memory recall 48 hours later.

However, working out immediately after studying or learning seemed to have no impact on memory retention, researchers said.

Completing Physical Activities

In the new study, researchers required 72 participants to complete a 40-minute task where they were required to view 90 images and learn the associated locations. The images contained common objects in one of six locations on a computer screen.

Study participants were then grouped into three: one group worked out immediately after the task, the second group exercised four hours after the task, and the third group did not partake in any physical activity at all.

The first and second group completed 35 minutes of interval training with the help of an ergometer.

Delayed Exercise

After two days, participants went through a memory recall test, which evaluated how much information they remembered from the learning activity.

Researchers also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain activity during memory recall.

Compared with the group that exercised immediately after studying, those who worked out after four hours had better memory recall after 48 hours. On the other hand, the participants who did not work out after the task had the second-best performance.

Optimum Period?

Professor Guillén Fernández, co-author of the study, says it is not clear why people who immediately exercise did not perform better than those who were inactive.

Fernández says physical activity can release neurotransmitters in the brain, including noradrenaline and dopamine, and these brain chemicals help enhance memory. However, he suspects that the psychological effects of immediately exercising after studying might interfere between the studied information and the formation of new memories.

Researchers do not know if exercising four hours after studying is the optimum period for retaining new information given that only two other conditions were considered in the study.

Furthermore, Fernández says the four-hour period should be taken with caution and may not be strictly construed for exercise in order to be helpful after learning.

There is also a possibility that the enhanced benefit in memory retention may be larger if participants exercised two hours after the memory task or by performing another form of exercise, Fernández says.

With that, further research must be done on the timing of the exercise session as well as the type of activity performed. Fernández and his team plan to do a follow-up study to investigate how exercise completed at different intervals affect a person's long-term memory.

Details of the study are published in the journal Current Biology.

Photo: Francisco Osorio | Flickr

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