How Running Improves Memory Retention

memory retention
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How does playing video games and physical inactivity impact a student’s ability to memorize facts for school? A new study by researchers from the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria provides an answer to that question.

The Memory Retention Study

In the memory retention study, Dr. Harald Kindermann and his team used a sample of 60 men aged 16-29 and asked them to memorize a range of information. After the learning exercise, he split them into three groups. One group played a violent computer game, one went for a run, and the control group spent time outside relaxing. Later, he tested the groups to see how well they retained the information they learned and compared the results.

“A video game is not helpful for improving learning effects.” Dr. Harald KindermannClick To Tweet
memory retention
Dr. Harald Kindermann |


The group that ran after the learning cycle outperformed the rest in memory retention. The control group did not perform as well as the running group, and the videogamers displayed the worst ability to recall what they had learned. According to Dr. Kindermann playing, “a video game is not helpful for improving learning effects” and data from the study backs this assertion. Physical exercise, in contrast, enhances learning, boosting memory retention thereby allowing students to retain more information.

The mechanism under which running appears to improve memory is unclear. The team involved in the study, however, hypothesizes that the stress hormone cortisol has a role to play. Cortisol enhances or impairs memory depending on the situation. Running is a physically stressful activity, and the body responds by releasing many substances, cortisol included. A simple explanation could be that during running the cortisol released helps improve memory.

For the gaming group, the violence of the game could have tricked their brains into thinking that virtual violence was indeed real. This created psychological stress, which made the brain focus on perceived stress and impaired memory in the process.

More research is needed to shed light on how running and cortisol release makes learning more efficient. If gaming negatively affects memory retention, are there long-term memory effects of playing violent games?

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