What Weightlifting For Just 20 Minutes Does To Your Brain

10/03/2014 11:02 am ET | Updated Mar 28, 2016

You may be surprised by what a quick workout session can do for your brain.

It's no secret that weightlifting is good for you -- from building muscle tissue to relieving stress -- but now a new study on brains and brawn suggests that going hard in the gym for as little as 20 minutes can boost your long-term memory by around 10 percent.

“Our study indicates that people don’t have to dedicate large amounts of time to give their brain a boost,” study leader Lisa Weinberg, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told The Huffington Post. Just check out a video describing the study above.

For the study, researchers asked 46 healthy young adults to try to remember a series of 90 photographs that were shown on a computer screen. Then half of the group worked out on a leg-extension exercise machine -- doing 50 reps -- while the other half sat in a chair and didn't exercise. The researchers then took saliva samples from each person.

Two days later, the same men and women met with the researchers again to look at a series of 180 photographs, which included the 90 photos that were shown before. This time, the men and women were asked to recall which photos they had seen previously and which were new.

What did the researchers find?

The people who exercised remembered around 60 percent of the photos they had seen before, while those who didn't exercise remembered only around 50 percent.

Previous research in older men and women (50 to 85 years old) has found that a brief workout improves memory due to the exercise-induced release of the stress hormone norepinephrine. Scientists have long known that the hormone, a chemical messenger in the brain, plays a strong role in memory.

And it turns out that, in this new study, those people who exercised had increased measures of norepinephrine in their saliva samples. See the connection?

“The findings are encouraging," study co-author Dr. Audrey Duarte, an associate professor of psychology at the institute, said in the statement. "Even without doing expensive fMRI scans, our results give us an idea of what areas of the brain might be supporting these exercise-induced memory benefits."

The study was published online in the journal Acta Psychologica on Sept. 28, 2014.

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