High-intensity exercise can benefit both muscles and the memory. Academics at McMaster University have found that partaking in six weeks of intense exercise, such as short bouts of interval training over the course of 20 minutes, can significantly improve what is known as high-interference memory. This type of memory allows humans to distinguish items, for example, the differences between cars of the same make and model.
For the study, 95 participants completed six weeks of exercise training, combined exercise and cognitive training or no training. Both the exercise and combined training groups improved performance on a high-interference memory task, while the control group did not.
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High-intensity exercise can benefit memory
Accordingly, the researchers are hopeful the findings could have implications for an ageing population which is grappling with the growing problem of catastrophic diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. "Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance," said lead author, Assistant Professor Jennifer Heisz. "The findings are important because memory performance of the study participants, who were all healthy young adults, increased over a relatively short period of time."
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The researchers also found that participants who experienced greater fitness gains also experienced greater increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth, function and survival of brain cells. "One hypothesis is that we will see greater benefits for older adults given that this type of memory declines with age," Professor Heisz added. "However, the availability of neurotrophic factors also declines with age and this may mean that we do not get the synergistic effects." The full study results are published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
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