A widely studied fitness topic, the effect of exercise on brain health is a one-sided debate. Exercise is good for your brain. Period. A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that the greater cardiorespiratory fitness that young adults exhibited, the better verbal memory and psychomotor speed they had 25 years later. Furthermore, this 2013 Journal of Strength and Conditioning study showed that military personnel improved memory and cognitive by doing agility training.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology took this body of research to the next level with a new study about how resistance training affects episodic (long-term) memory. Published in Acta Psychologica, the study divided people into two groups, one tasked to remember if they had seen certain images after they lifted weights and another that attempted to recall the images without exercise. On the first day at the lab, study participants were shown 90 images before the exercising. Then, study participants performed a leg extension exercise for 6 sets of 10 reps after warmup sets.
During the second lab session two days later, study participants did the same memory test from session 1 except this one included 90 new images. The researchers asked the people to respond whether or not they remembered the images since the first session. Results showed that the group that did the leg extensions remembered about 10% more images than the non-exercisers.
Although the study didn’t test for hormones, it did take samples of salivary alpha amylase (AA), a biomarker that increases following stress and arousal. Since the lifters’ AA was higher than the non-lifters, this increased arousal in the brain could be why they were able to remember more images.
The study suggests that exercises such as a weighted two-legged squat could have similar memory-enhancing effects, so remember: don’t skip leg day.