A Brisk Walk Boosts Memory For Exam Material
Doing well in many exams depends purely on memory. Research has revealed a simple piece of advice for how to better memorize exam material: go for a brisk 10 minute walk before studying the material.
In a study published in the prestigious Journal of Cognitive Psychology, graduate student Carlos Salas and his colleagues had students try to memorize 30 words. Half of the students (randomly chosen) went for a 10 minute walk before being given the world list to learn. They were told to walk briskly but without feelings of anxiety. The remaining students spent the same time sitting, looking at natural landscapes.
It was found that the students who went for a walk before the study period remembered 25% more words compared to those who simply sat still. That’s a big advantage.
Before study or before the exam?
So an energizing walk before study helps the learning process. What about a walk before the test – after the study period? Would that help? The research team also looked at this, and found in this case a brisk walk before the memory test didn’t help. The effect of light exercise here was confined to just BEFORE study, not just before the test.
How does it work?
Why does a brisk walk help? The researchers asked the students to report their levels of arousal after the 10 minute stints of walking or sitting, and arousal was higher after walking, as you’d expect. Increased arousal is known from previous research to be important in forming robust memories. ‘Consolidating’ memories from short term memory to long term memory depends on a part of the brain in the temporal lobe called the hippocampus. Stress hormones related to emotional arousal are crucial for enhanced hippocampal-dependent memory consolidation of an experience.
The researchers conclude:
Overall, these results suggest that individuals can gain a memory advantage from a ten-minute walk before studying. Given [these] positive results … and [their] potentially important practical applications, we hope that researchers will continue to explore the relationship between walking [and] memory.
Salas, C., Minakata, K., and Kelemen, W. (2011). Walking before study enhances free recall but not judgement-of-learning magnitude. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23 (4), 507-513 DOI: 10.1080/20445911.2011.532207