High-Intensity Workouts May Boost Memory

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Mar 19, 2018

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 the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.

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