Mastering a skill takes years of practice and patience. But a new study shows a quick method of retaining more information from your practice sessions than ever before: exercise.

The research team at McGill University have released findings that cardio-vascular exercise right after practice helps in memory retention by increasing brain connectivity and efficiency. The findings concluded that even going for a walk or a bike ride for 15 minutes helps in retaining the information that you learned during a practice session.

A “pinch task”

The research team recruited participants to perform different versions of something called a “pinch task”. It consists of participants engaging in a “physical” video game: connecting rectangles on the screen as fast as possible using a joystick-like device. It was then followed by 15 minutes of exercise or rest. Participants were asked to perform the task again at intervals of 30, 60, 90 minutes while the researchers studied their brain activity levels. For the final part of the study, participants were asked to repeat the same task after eight and then twenty-four hours after initially performing it.


The study concluded that there was less brain activity after the exercise for both groups of participants; ones who rested and others who exercised. But after 24 hours, the participants who exercised were able to complete the tasks more efficiently. “Because the neural activation in the brains of those who had exercised was much lower, the neural resources could then be put to other tasks,” said Fabian Dal Maso, the first author of the paper.

Although the participants who exercised performed the tasks more efficiently, the changes to brain activity were not apparent until sleep was introduced before performing the task. “What this suggests to us, and this is where we are going next with our research, is that sleep can interact with exercise to optimize the consolidation of motor memories,” said Marc Roig, senior author of the paper.



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