Give Your Memory a Workout!

Exercise is one of the most important aspects of a healthy body and mind. It helps improve many things beyond cardiovascular and metabolic benefits, such as developing diseases, strokes, diabetes, and a recent study claims it can improve memory. A study done by researchers at McMaster University found that adults who took part in a high-intensity 6-week training, significantly improved on the “high-interference” memory theory. High interference theory is termed in our textbook Cognition Exploring the Science of the Mind as, “materials lost from memory because of interference from other materials that are also in memory”. Proposing that information in Long-term memory could be confused or combined with other information during the encoding process, thus disrupting other memories. An example of this would be, when you relocate the trashcan in your house and constantly go to throw away trash and it ends up on the floor because it’s no longer there anymore! (Recently has happened to me) (-:

According to the Psychology Today article, Does High-Intensity Exercise Improve Memory, the study was done with 95 participants, each were assigned to one of three groups: an exercise training group, a group that received combined exercise and cognitive training and a control group that did not complete any training. Three times a week the physical training and combined physical/cognitive training sessions were completed using cycling machines, and high intensity/recovery intervals. Every week the physical training sessions upped the target heart rate, and the cognitive portion of the sessions also increased their challenges in games.

The results at the end of the 6-weeks, showed both physical/cognitive group and the sole physical group, compared to the control group, improved on the high-interference memory task given at the end of the 6-week trial. The task involved showing computer images of everyday objects, such as apples and lawn mowers, and asked to place the objects in one of three categories: an image they had seen before, one they had never seen, or an image similar to one they have seen before (Marano, 2018). This task is somewhat similar to the Stroop Effect which we demonstrated in class, in that it measures level of interference. When we were asked to read off the color of the word “blue“, it was much harder for us to do this because we are innate to reading the word instead of the color, this is a form of interference.

Another theory found from the study, though not yet published, suggests that exercise may also help with individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s. As we discussed in class, the retrieval from long-term memory is specifically associated with the hippocampus. Alzheimer’s is a  disease that diminishes long-term memory overtime. The study found that the exercise training that increased high-interference memory, to be linked to the hippocampal function. The blood component of the hippocampus, brain derived neurotropic (BDNF) is low in people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, thus indicating that exercise may help those with Alzheimer’s and dementia (News, 2017).

As we can see with this study and several others, there is strong evidence for how exercise can positively affect our memory. I find it interesting how subtle discoveries are able to be made in the sciences that could affect our lives greatly. As we know, memory is a very important structure and process that allows us to operate in our current state as well as our future. So go out and get some exercise! It’s fun, rewarding and great for the body and mind!

JD Howell/McMaster University


Marano, H. E. (2018, February 12). Does High-Intensity Exercise Improve Memory? Retrieved Feb 26, 2018, from

News, C. (2017, November 23). High intensity workouts are good for muscles and for memory:    McMaster study. Retrieved Feb 26, 2018, from

4 thoughts on “Give Your Memory a Workout!

  1. linnis

    The general hypothesis of this study that exercise improves cognition is not surprising to me. My father has Parkinson’s Disease and the doctors are always encouraging him to exercise so he can both maintain his physical functions as well as his cognition. He attends a rock climbing class for people with Parkinson’s and that especially requires a great deal of thinking and physical movement. However, the idea that it improves on a specific type of memory task, high interference is unexpected. It makes me wonder how many other types of memory tasks can be improved with an implemented exercise routine. Additionally, it makes me curious if this is part of the reasoning behind pushing physical education programs in schools. This study makes me want to participate in myself or discover more research about physical activity and improving memory.

    1. ktbug Post author

      Oh wow, I’m sorry to hear that. I can see how rock climbing is great for cognition/ physical exercise and I hope it is improving his condition. And absolutely, this is certainly one reason to push for physical education in schools.

  2. destinyschild

    Great job comparing the health of cognition to exercising because it is a huge part to a healthy mind. The connection with class is also great as well as your personal connection. Well done.

  3. abolen

    This was a great post with lots of interesting details. I have always heard that exercise is good for the body, and I recently learned about exercise being good for the mind as well. The mind is such a complex and intricate component of the body, so it is important to keep it healthy. My grandfather has Alzheimer’s, and although there is no specific cure, it is crucial that he keeps exercising using his mind. Physical activity and therapy are great tools for the elderly to keep their minds fresh. Even simple tasks such as talking with other people and being with other people helps to keep the mind active. A lot of future research is still to be done about both the mind and Alzheimer’s disease.

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