If you want to lock new information into your brain, try working up a sweat four hours after first encountering it.
This precisely timed trick, described June 16 in Current Biology, comes courtesy of 72 people who learned the location of 90 objects on a computer screen. Some of these people then watched relaxing nature videos, while others worked up a sweat on stationary bikes, alternating between hard and easy pedaling for 35 minutes. This workout came either soon after the cram session or four hours later.
Compared with both the couch potatoes and the immediate exercisers, the people who worked out four hours after their learning session better remembered the objects’ locations two days later. The delayed exercisers also had more consistent activity in the brain’s hippocampus, an area important for memory, when they remembered correctly. That consistency indicates that the memories were stronger, Eelco van Dongen of the Donders Institute in the Netherlands and colleagues propose.
The researchers don’t yet know how exercise works its memory magic, but they have a guess. Molecules sparked by aerobic exercise, including the neural messenger dopamine and the protein BDNF, may help solidify memories by reorganizing brain cell connections.