Next time you’re prepping for a test, consider high-intensity interval training as your study break of choice. HIIT workouts boosted memory in young adults, according to researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The team conducted a study to examine the relationship between brain training and physical exercise.

Researchers ran a randomized controlled trial with 95 healthy but inactive male and female college students, who were divided into three groups: exercise only, exercise and cognitive training, and no exercise or cognitive training. For 6 weeks, exercise participants did 20 minutes of HIIT on indoor bikes three times per week; cognitive training subjects completed the same workouts and did 20 minutes of brain-training exercises either before or after the cycling bout; and control group members lived life as usual. At baseline and at the end of 6 weeks, researchers administered fitness and memory tests and measured brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in all subjects.

Data analysis showed that participants in each exercise group improved fitness and improved memory test performance, while control group members experienced no change. Those with the greatest fitness gains also had the highest increases in BDNF, which is a protein that promotes brain cell growth, function and survival.
“Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance,” said Jennifer Heisz, lead study author and assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster. More research is recommended.

This study was reported in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2017; doi:10.1162/jcon_a_01164).

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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