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An easy way to learn a new motor skill

Created date

September 13th, 2018
A man and a woman power walking

A study showed exercisers were able to perform the repeat tasks more efficiently and used fewer brain resources than the group that rested. 

If you want to learn a new motor skill, such as playing an instrument or working more efficiently on your computer, exercise for 15 minutes after practicing.

Researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, had previously found that exercise helped people retain a motor skill they had just learned and also perform it more efficiently. In a recent study, they set out to find out exactly why this occurs.

The test required participants to use different levels of force on a joystick-type device to move red triangles on a computer screen (like a video game). One group rested after performing this task, and the other group hopped on an exercise bike for 15 minutes afterward.

Both groups then had to practice a shorter version of the task (and subsequently exercise or rest) at 30-, 60-, and 90-minute intervals. Finally, the groups performed the task 8 hours later and then again 24 hours later.

Exercise made a difference

Each time they performed the task, researchers measured brain activity. They discovered that the exercisers were able to perform the repeat tasks more efficiently and used fewer brain resources than the group that rested. The results also showed that along with performing better, the exercisers were better able to retain the motor skill, especially at the 24-hour mark. The researchers speculate that, since the participants had a night’s sleep before the final test, exercise might interact with sleep to further enhance motor skill learning.

The researchers believe that their findings show it is possible to improve brain connectivity and efficiency, which could eventually help people who need to recover motor skills after a stroke or trauma.

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