In a ground-breaking study conducted by the University of Copenhagen, researchers have unveiled a significant link between physical exercise and the enhancement of motor memory.
The findings suggest that individuals, ranging from violinists and surgeons to gamers and those seeking to improve their fine motor skills, can benefit from incorporating physical activity into their routine before and after practising new skills. The study not only sheds light on the cognitive advantages of exercise but also holds implications for optimising rehabilitation processes.
The research, which has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, was led by Dr Lasse Jespersen and his team from the department of nutrition, exercise, and sports. It demonstrates that physical exercise, whether performed before or after learning a new skill, has a positive effect on the brain's ability to remember and perform tasks automatically. The study involved 67 young men between the ages of 18 and 35 years, ensuring a homogeneous group for analysis.
The researchers observed a remarkable 10% improvement in individuals' ability to remember learned motor skills when exercise was incorporated either before or after the learning process.
Dr Lasse Jespersen notes, “Things can't go wrong if a bit of physical exercise is incorporated. A person will experience beneficial effects. This is probably because physical activity increases the brain's ability to change, which is a prerequisite for remembering.”
Notably, the positive effects were applicable to individuals of all age groups, including children, adolescents, and older adults. The study suggests that even those undergoing rehabilitation to recover lost motor skills could benefit from integrating physical exercise into their routine.
To maintain data consistency, the study excluded professional musicians and gamers, given their extensive experience in practising motor skills. The researchers wanted to ensure that all participants started at a similar level of unfamiliarity with the motor task introduced in the study.
The research holds particular significance for rehabilitation programmes, where, traditionally, different disciplines address physical training, ergonomic considerations and cognitive abilities separately. Jesper Lundbye-Jensen, head of the department's Movement and Neuroscience section, suggests that integrating these areas in rehabilitation planning could have a synergistic effect, potentially improving efficiency and outcomes for individuals recovering from accidents or aiming to regain mobility.
The study provides insights into the physiological changes occurring in the brain during motor practice that require the acquisition of fine motor skills. Known as brain plasticity, these changes are crucial for learning and remembering new skills. The study distinguishes between online learning, occurring during skill acquisition and offline learning, happening in the hours after practice when the memory is consolidated. Physical exercise, before and after learning, seems to amplify these positive effects.
Looking ahead, the researchers hope to conduct long-term studies to measure more lasting effects and investigate whether the observed benefits become even greater over an extended trial period. The ultimate goal is to provide recommendations backed by comprehensive research, offering valuable insights for optimising learning, skill acquisition and rehabilitation processes.
The University of Copenhagen's research adds a new dimension to our understanding of the intricate relationship between physical exercise and cognitive function, specifically motor memory. Whether you are a musician honing your craft or an individual on the path to recovery, incorporating physical activity into your routine before and after learning may prove to be a game-changer, enhancing your ability to remember and perform tasks more effectively.