Can exercise make you smarter? It can, say researchers from Sweden. According to their research, published today in Translational Sports Medicine , “ aerobic, physical exercise before encoding improves learning and memory functions in young adults.”

It’s common for young adults to spend hours sitting through seminars or sifting through documentation with breaks for physical activity few and far between. Years of research, however, have shown that exercise can help improve brain function. This new study review suggests that for young adults, mixing some movement into their routine can indeed help improve the learning process.

The Research

The researchers gathered 13 studies from the medical literature that looked at connections between exercise and brain function among adults between the ages of 18 and 35. They wanted to evaluate “the acute effects of a single exercise workout on learning and memory functions in young adults.”

The studies looked into the effects of 3 main forms of exercise: walking, running and biking, and how they affected verbal memory, short-term memory, learning, and visual perception. Exercise sessions lasted between 2 minutes and an hour. The results were sorted into a mix of light, moderate, and heavy exercise.

The Results

When the researchers compared the data, the effects of physical activity were clear. All 3 types of exercises, regardless of session length, helped to enhance memory. “Several cognitive functions associated with learning were improved after an exercise stimulus in the selected studies such as attention, concentration, working memory, short-term memory, long-term memory, verbal fluency, and capability to plan and solve problems,” the authors wrote.

The exercise effects could last anywhere from half an hour to 2 full hours. The individual studies did not agree on what level of intensity was the most effective, but when considered across all of them, moderate and high intensity activities both yielded positive results. “Exercise at moderate to high intensity improved learning memory, planning and problem-solving, concentration related cognitive functions, long-term memory, working memory, verbal fluency but not spatial memory, object recognition, or passive avoidance learning.”

A recovery period was also key, the researchers noted. According to the studies, a short 5-minute rest between exercise and study was enough to result in marked improvements to attention, concentration, and long-term memory.

The Take Home

What does this mean for the average person? Making sure to stay active can help you learn and plan. Depending on where you live and how much time you have, cycling may not be a realistic activity during the average day at college or work, but taking a break for a power walk, or walking during your lunch break or between classes could be options for adding some exercise to your schedule. The bottom line: if you want to be at peak mental performance, make some time for exercise.

Sean Marsala is a health writer based out of Philadelphia, PA. Passionate about technology, you can usually find him reading, browsing the internet, and exploring virtual worlds.