Do you have something important to remember? Study it first, and then take a short, light jog around the block. Science suggests that a memory will stick more easily if it’s followed up by a quick workout—if you’re a woman.

This finding, published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications (2017; [2], 33), stems from four separate interventions involving 256 participants. In the first study, 74 undergraduate students were asked to study names and faces. Half of the participants completed a 5-minute bout of step exercise before the test, while the rest sat quietly. All of them underwent the same name–face recognition test the next day to determine recall. The procedure was repeated; however, this time the participants exercised after the test. They were again retested 24 hours later.

Memory recall improved significantly in female students when they exercised after the test but not when they exercised beforehand. Male students saw no improvement with either intervention.

The three other experiments were similar to the first; however, certain variables were changed. In the second study, memory tests were given the same day as the intervention. In the third study, the learning phase and memory tests included abstract objects instead of faces. The fourth study was very much like the first, but control participants tapped their fingers on a table for 5 minutes instead of sitting quietly.

“Across four experiments, participants who engaged in 5 minutes of low-impact exercise immediately after learning showed better recall for paired associations,” the authors observed. “This effect was consistently observable only among female participants for reasons that are not yet clear. Results also suggested that the memorial benefits of exercise-induced arousal reflect post-learning processes such as consolidation, as equivalent exercise prior to learning yielded no such benefits, although it may be that more variables must be measured in order to draw firm conclusions about the temporal relationship between memory and acute exercise.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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