For me, running is therapy. Whenever I’m having an off day, I’m feeling down in the dumps, or I simply wish to clear my head, I break out the tennis shoes. Sometimes it takes a good hour on the treadmill, while at others a quick jog around the neighborhood does the trick. But there’s one routine that is always sure to relieve my ill feelings and catapult me into a better mood: surges of sprints.

Doing so makes me aware of my entire body, whilst giving me a break from the complicated vastness of my mind. I focus entirely on my breathing, my racing heart, and each rapid step forward. And then I welcome the many health benefits—both physical and mental—that follow.

Exercise in itself provides us with a multitude of welfares, from improving our mood, to reducing our risk of cancers and heart disease, to refining certain mental skills. But intense forms of exercise such as sprinting just might provide us with additional benefits that we’ve never considered before: a new study “High Intensity Exercise Boosts Memory” from McMaster University finds that high intensity interval training (HIIT) may improve our memory. More specifically, the researchers observed that six weeks of 20-minute HIIT workouts led to better high-interference memory.

According to the researchers, these findings, which are published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, are of significant importance because memory performance in the participants increased so quickly. Furthermore, this research comes at a time when mental and memory decline—characteristic of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s—is so prevalent, and therefore, may assist us in dealing with this issue.

To reach these findings, 95 subjects were split into three different groups and then observed after six weeks: one group completed exercise training, another completed exercise and cognitive training, and the final completed no training (control group) over the course of these six weeks. The researchers found that both the exercise and combined training groups did, in fact, improve performance but the control group did not.

Study Finds High Intensity Exercise Improves Memory

Additionally, the researchers measured aerobic fitness, memory, and neurotrophic factor, both before and after the study. This allowed them to make additional observations, such that the participants who saw greater fitness gains were rewarded with greater increases in a protein that sustains the growth and function of brain cells—brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. The team also received a deeper look into how exercise and cognitive training may change the brain to sustain and support cognition.

“Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance,” said Jennifer Heisz, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster. “At the other end of our lifespan, as we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia,” she continued.

McMaster University (2017, November 22). High Intensity Exercise Boosts Memory. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved November 22, 2017 from

Heisz J. J., Clark I. B., Bonin K., Paolucci E. M., Michalski B., Becker S., & Fahnestock M. (2017, November 22). The Effects of physical Exercise and Cognitive Training on Memory and Neurotrophic Factors. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Retrieved November 24, 2017 from