You already know hitting the gym can be a great stress-buster. But new research shows exercise–and lifting weights, in particular–can immediately enhance long-term memory by around 20 percent.
In the study, a group of participants were shown a series of pictures they were not asked to memorize. Later, half the participants performed 50 leg extensions using a gym machine, while the other half sat in the chair for the same amount of time as the machine moved their legs for them. (The point was to have both groups experience the movement with and without their involvement.)
Two days later, the non-exercisers were able to correctly identify half the photos they had seen. The ones who had really worked out, meanwhile, correctly identified 60 percent of the photos. The conclusion: exercise put them in a heightened state, enabling memories–particularly emotional ones–to resonate.
Measuring saliva levels during the study also allowed researchers such as Dr. Audrey Duarte to track neurotransmitters more closely. “Even without doing expensive fMRI scans, our results give us an idea of what areas of the brain might be supporting these exercise-induced memory benefits,” she wrote in the paper. “The findings are encouraging because they are consistent with rodent literature that pinpoints exactly the parts of the brain that play a role in stress-induced memory benefits caused by exercise.”
The takeaway: start lifting weights to sharpen your memory. And if lifting weights isn’t your thing, give this 20-minute yoga routine a try. Researchers speculate that the breathing exercises that go along with yoga help to focus your mind and reduce stress, which might help you retain more information as well.
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