‘Exercise makes you smart’: Study links physical activity to improved memory, learning in young adults

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Jönköping, Sweden — Young adults can improve their memory, cognitive function and other learning abilities with a single aerobic, physical workout, according to a pair of Swedish researchers.

The researchers reviewed 13 studies published between 2009 and 2019 that involved participants between the ages of 18 to 35 who performed various cognitive tests and exercises (walking, running and bicycling). The researchers found that two minutes to one hour of moderate to high-intensity exercise “had a favorable effect on learning and memory functions.”

They noted that the learning process is made up of three phases: encoding, consolidation and retrieval. Encoding, the immediate processing of information, improved when participants took part in an aerobic, physical activity before learning. Moderate- to high-intensity workouts improved learning memory, planning and problem-solving, concentration-related cognitive functions, long-term memory, working memory, and verbal fluency. The effects were present 30 to 120 minutes after exercise.


“Exercise makes you smart,” Peter Blomstrand, researcher and physician at County Hospital Ryhov and Jönköping University, said in a Sept. 10 press release.

The workouts, however, didn’t improve spatial memory, object recognition or passive avoidance learning.

The study was published online Sept. 8 in the journal Translational Sports Medicine.

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