Summer is over, and as the swimsuits get packed away, so does the body-image anxiety that propelled me to the gym all summer. Now I can put on drapey clothes and wait till March to start working out again. Not so fast, says science. There's your mental health to consider. A new study from Georgia Tech suggests that a workout of as little as 20 minutes can enhance memory recall by 10 percent (so you can remember those scantily clad summer frolics all the better)!
It's been established that regular aerobic exercise improves memory over the long term. But the latest research shows that strenuous exercise immediately following a learning period increases the chances that you'll remember what you just learned.
The researchers at Georgia Tech took a group of young, healthy adults and made them study a series of 90 photos, a third of them positive images (like kids on a waterslide), a third of them negative (like mutilated bodies, WTF), and a third of them neutral (like clocks). The thought here being that emotional experiences, positive or negative, are more likely to be remembered, especially after acute stress.
It turns out that intense exercise, like quad extension at maximum personal effort, floods the body with hormones similar to those from other stressful experiences, like speaking publicly, or feeling bloated at the beach. And in the state of "arousal" (that's a scientific term) brought on by this exercise, people are more likely to remember things.
So right after seeing the pictures of happy kids and mutilated bodies and clocks, half of the participants hopped on a quad extension machine and did 50 reps on both legs. The other half of the participants, the control group, sat in the chair and allowed the researchers to move their legs.
48 hours later, the participants again studied a series of photos, this time there were 180 of them, with the original 90 photos mixed in. Where the control group could only remember about 50 percent, the group that exercised right after they studied remembered about 60 percent. Boo-ya!
Small though that margin may seem, the implications of this research are exciting. Especially for people who keep forgetting to exercise.