Six weeks of intense exercise—short bouts of interval training over the course of 20 minutes—showed significant improvements in high-interference memory, suggest McMaster University researchers.

Participants in the study 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.

“Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance,” says Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster and lead author of the study, published recently in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

“At the other end of our lifespan, as we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia,” she adds, in a media release from McMaster University.

In the study, 95 participants completed 6 weeks of exercise training, combined exercise and cognitive training, or no training (the control group did neither and remained sedentary). Both the exercise and combined training groups improved their performance on a high-interference memory task, while the control group did not.

Researchers measured changes in aerobic fitness, memory and neurotrophic factor, before and after the study protocol.

The results reveal a potential mechanism for how exercise and cognitive training may be changing the brain to support cognition, suggesting that the two work together through complementary pathways of the brain to improve high-interference memory.

This type of memory is what, for example, helps people distinguish their cars from others of the same make and model, the release explains.

Researchers have begun to examine older adults to determine if they will experience the same positive results with the combination of exercise and cognitive training, the release continues.

“One hypothesis is that we will see greater benefits for older adults given that this type of memory declines with age,” Heisz says. “However, the availability of neurotrophic factors also declines with age, and this may mean that we do not get the synergistic effects.”

[Source(s): McMaster University, Science Daily]