Exercise May Help You Conquer New Skills

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You know that old saying, “It’s like riding a bike?” Well, it may be more than just saying according to a new study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen who recently discovered that exercise may help you improve motor memory and motor skill learning.

To test how exercise effects brain function, the researchers divided 48 healthy young men into three groups and had them trace a moving, wavy line across a computer screen for 5 minutes, three times. Over time, the participants got better at tracing the line because they had done it so times.

  • One group rode a stationary bike for 15 minutes before the study.
  • One group rode a stationary bike for 15 minutes after the study.
  • One group simply rested.

The researchers then had all the participants trace the line again, after 1 hour, then again after 1 day, and then again after 1 week.

After 1 hour, all three groups tested about about the same (although the group that rode the bike after the test, were a bit less accurate possibly because exercise high arousal levels may temporarily increase inhibition, or the motor memory was still undergoing consolidation.)

However, after 1 week, the group that rode the bike after the first test were able to trace the line with significant more accuracy than the other two groups. And even though they didn’t perform as well as those that rode the bike after the test, those that rode the bike before the test still did better than those who did nothing but rest.

In conclusion the researchers believe that exercise helps combine and store motor (physical) memories, especially if the exercise is done after learning the new skill. In other words, next time you’re practicing that knitting stitch or free throws and you get it right, maybe try biking or running for 20 minutes to make sure it really sticks!

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