(Natural News) It’s not news that exercise benefits a person, both physically and mentally — but how much and when should one do it? A study published in the journal Psychological Reports reported that a short period of exercise before learning enhances both short and long-term memory.
Researchers at the University of Mississippi sought to determine when exercise, in relation to the learning task, can best boost memory. For the study, they recruited university students aged between 18 and 35 who didn’t smoke, were not pregnant, and had no recent injuries or learning disabilities. The participants also did not exercise recently, drink coffee, or take controlled substances.
The team asked the participants to complete four one-hour visits to the laboratory. One of the four visits was a control session in which the participants did not exercise, but took a five-minute rest before completing the short and long-term memory task. The other visits involved three sessions of exercise. The participants would do the learning task before, during, or after the exercise, in which they walked on a treadmill at an average of 3.4 miles per hour (mph) for 15 minutes.
After all the visits, the participants spent 20 minutes watching an episode of The Office, which served as a distraction. Afterward, they attempted to recall the words from the memory test.
The results revealed that the participants’ learning improved across trials. However, walking on the treadmill before the learning task resulted in the most significant improvements both in short and long-term memory performance.
These outcomes correspond with an earlier study by the same team, which had reported that moderate and high-intensity exercise before completing a cognitive task was more beneficial to learning. (Related: How much physical exercise you do now will affect the learning ability of your future children.)
The benefits of physical exercise on the brain
Physical exercise affects the brain in many ways. Researchers at the University of British Columbia discovered that regular aerobic exercise could boost the size of the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, are the exercises that get your heart and your sweat glands pumping.
Exercise’s benefits on memory and thinking can be attributed to its ability to reduce insulin resistance, decrease inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors — chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the number and survival of new brain cells.
Mood disorders, sleeping problems, stress, and anxiety often cause or contribute to cognitive impairment. But with exercise, the risk of cognitive impairment can be lessened as it helps improve mood and sleep and reduce stress and anxiety.
A lot of studies have reported that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, which are the areas of the brain that are responsible for thinking and memory, are bigger in people who exercise compare to those who don’t. Studies have also shown that regularly performing moderate intensity exercises for six months or one year may increase the volume of these brain areas.
Read more news stories and studies on improving brain function by going to Brain.news.