Temporal Effects of Acute Walking Exercise on Learning and Memory Function

Am J Health Promot. 2018 Sep;32(7):1518-1525. doi: 10.1177/0890117117749476. Epub 2017 Dec 28.


Purpose: To evaluate the temporal effects of acute exercise on episodic memory.

Design: A quasi-experimental study.

Sample: Eighty-eight college students (N = 22 per group).

Measures: Four experimental groups were evaluated, including a control group, exercising prior to memory encoding, exercising during encoding, and exercising during memory consolidation. The exercise stimulus consisted of a 15-minute moderate-intensity walk on a treadmill. Participants completed the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) to assess learning and memory. Prospective memory was assessed via a Red Pen Task. Long-term memory (recognition and attribution) of the RAVLT was assessed 20 minutes and 24 hours after exercise.

Analysis: Repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) assessed the performance of RAVLT scores of trials 1 to 5 across groups. One-way ANOVA assessed the performance of individual trials across groups, whereas χ2 assessed the performance of the Red Pen Task across groups.

Results: Regarding learning, the interaction of groups × trial was marginally statistically significant ( F12,332 = 1.773, P = .05), indicating that the group which exercised before encoding did better than the group that exercised during encoding and consolidation. For both 24-hour recognition and attribution performance, the group that exercised before memory encoding performed significantly better than the group that exercised during consolidation ( P = .05 recognition, P = .006 attribution).

Discussion: Engaging in a 15-minute bout of moderate-intensity walking before a learning task was effective in influencing long-term episodic memory.

Keywords: RAVLT; prospective memory; retrospective memory; walking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Non-Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Walking / psychology*
  • Young Adult