Voluntary aerobic exercise increases the cognitive enhancing effects of working memory training

A.M. Smith, K.M. Spiegler, B. Sauce, C.D. Wass, T. Sturzoiu, L.D. Matzel

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Increases in performance on tests of attention and learning are often observed shortly after a period of aerobic exercise, and evidence suggests that humans who engage in regular exercise are partially protected from age-related cognitive decline. However, the cognitive benefits of exercise are typically short-lived, limiting the practical application of these observations. Here, we explored whether physical exercise might induce lasting changes in general cognitive ability if that exercise was combined with working memory training, which is purported to broadly impact cognitive performance. Mice received either exercise treatment (6 weeks of voluntary running wheel access), working memory training (in a dual radial-arm maze), both treatments, or various control treatments. After this period of exercise, working memory training was initiated (alternating with days of exercise), and continued for several weeks. Upon completion of these treatments, animals were assessed (2-4 weeks later) for performance on four diverse learning tasks, and the aggregate performance of individual animals across all four learning tasks was estimated. Working memory training alone promoted small increases in general cognitive performance, although any beneficial effects of exercise alone had dissipated by the time of learning assessments. However, the two treatments in combination more than doubled the improvement in general cognitive performance supported by working memory training alone. Unlike the transient effects that acute aerobic exercise can have on isolated learning tasks, these results indicate that an acute period of exercise combined with working memory training can have synergistic and lasting impact on general cognitive performance. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-635
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


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