Exercise at the Right Time May Improve Memory

New research from the Netherlands has found that doing an aerobics workout a few hours after learning something might help you to remember it. It means exercise at the right time may improve memory.

New information Becomes Long Term


Information that’s been newly learned gets turned into long term knowledge by a process of “stabilisation and integration of memories”, says the study team from the Donders Institute for Brain in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.




The brain will process new memories for some time after learning, but exercising helps to improve the post-learning processes. This occurs as certain brain chemicals are released during the physical activity. Chemicals released include dopamine, noradrenaline and a growth factor called BDNF.

Finding the Best Time to Exercise

There were 72 people who participated in the experiment and they were each asked to learn to match 90 locations to pictures over a forty-minute period. There were three groups with one of them exercising straight after learning, one exercised four hours later and the other group didn’t do any exercise.

Two days later each group was tested to see how much they’d memorised. The researchers monitored brain activity of each participant with a MRI scanner. Those who had exercised four hours after their learning were able to remember much more in their test. The group who exercised just after the learning didn’t do any better than the group who didn’t do any at all.

While strong memories will be remembered no matter what, it does appear that weak memories, which might normally be forgotten in a day or so, may be remembered longer when the brain releases more dopamine and norepinephrine.

Will it Improve Long Term Learning?

More research needs to be done but in order to improve learning this research does suggest that intense exercise could help by releasing these chemicals in the brain. There’s a word of caution though, as overdoing it could have a negative effect.

The type of memory might be important and simple memory tasks such as tying shoelaces may be helped more by exercise than other types of memory. Regular exercise may be helpful, but the type of exercise might not. In short, it isn’t about the type, intensity or frequency of doing exercise, but when to do it, to get the best results.