Investigating the effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise on long-term memory in younger adults


Individuals who are more physically active tend to have better academic performance. Although the underlying mechanism is unclear, physical activity may improve academic performance by acutely activating the stress system: an acute stress response increases plasma cortisol levels, which increases memory consolidation for newly learned information. Thus, information learned immediately post exercise would be preferentially remembered. To test this, 55 participants viewed a video lecture before exercise, after exercise, or after rest. The exercise consisted of high intensity interval training on a cycle ergometer and their memory for the lecture material was assessed by a multiple-choice quiz conducted 14 minutes and 48 hours after the lecture for immediate and delayed recall, respectively. Better memory performance was expected for the participants who viewed the lecture after exercise compared to those who exercised after the lecture or did not exercise. Preliminary analysis found a significant correlation between baseline aerobic fitness, as determined by a maximal aerobic exercise test (VO2max) and grade point average [r(48) = 0.28, p < 0.05], suggesting that individuals with higher aerobic fitness also have better academic performance. The exercise and control groups did not differ in immediate recall of the studied material; however, recall scores improved for the exercise groups and declined for the control group following the 48-hour delay [t(45) = -1.80, p = 0.08]. The preliminary findings suggest that a single bout of aerobic exercise can acutely improve long-term memory performance in younger adults.