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The Secret To Retaining A New Skill: Learn, Exercise, Sleep (#GotBitcoin?)

People retain new skills better when they follow a learning session with a workout, a study finds. The Secret To Retaining A New Skill: Learn, Exercise, Sleep

Scientists are discovering new connections between learning, exercise and sleep.

A new study suggests that when learning a new task, people improve the long-term retention of those skills when they exercise intensely for as little as 15 minutes immediately afterward—provided this is followed by a good night’s sleep. The study was published in March in the medical journal NeuroImage.

“Very little research looks at the relationship between exercise, sleep and memory formation, though there is clearly a connection between the three,” says Marc Roig, one of the March paper’s co-authors and an assistant professor at McGill University’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy,

The findings could help speed up recovery from stroke or injury, or be used to assist anyone learning a new motor skill, the scientists involved say.

In the study, participants learned to use a joystick-like device called a dynamometer to play a videogame. Immediately afterward, half the participants rested, while the other half biked intensely for 15 minutes. For those who underwent the short bout of exercise, Dr. Roig says, the researchers observed the brain operating with increased efficiency, which may have helped them retain the skill they just learned. The study was the first to show how exercise affects the brain after motor learning.

Eight hours later, the researchers asked all of the participants to repeat the task they had learned, and again, 24 hours later. At the eight-hour mark there was no difference between the group that had exercised and the group that had rested. But 24 hours later, the skill-retention rate was about 25% better for the group that had exercised, compared with the group that had not exercised.

Past research shows that if someone learns a motor skill during the day, the motor cortex, the region of the brain associated with executing movement, is active at night during certain stages of sleep. Dr. Roig says he wants to do a follow-up study to better understand how this contributes to memory formation.

The current findings could be applied to rehabilitation for patients with Parkinson’s disease or serious injuries, says Fabien Dal Maso, another co-author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Montreal. First, Dr. Dal Maso says, there will have to be tests using people with specific pathologies because their specific maladies may alter how exercise effects the brain.

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