Exercise opens a temporal window for enhanced cognitive improvement from subsequent physical activity

Christopher W. Butler, Ashley A. Keiser, Janine L. Kwapis, Nicole C. Berchtold, Vanessa L. Wall, Marcelo A. Wood, Carl W. Cotman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The beneficial effects of exercise on cognition are well established; however specific exercise parameters regarding the frequency and duration of physical activity that provide optimal cognitive health have not been well defined. Here, we explore the effects of the duration of exercise and sedentary periods on long-term object location memory (OLM) in mice. We use a weak object location training paradigm that is subthreshold for long-term memory formation in sedentary controls, and demonstrate that exercise enables long-term memories to form. We show that 14- and 21-d of running wheel access enables mice to discriminate between familiar and novel object locations after a 24 h delay, while 2- or 7-d running wheel access provides insufficient exercise for such memory enhancement using the subthreshold learning paradigm. After 14- and 21-d of wheel running, exercise-induced cognitive enhancement then decays back to baseline performance following 3-d of sedentary activity. However, exercise-induced cognitive enhancement can be reactivated by an additional period of just 2 d exercise, previously shown to be insufficient to induce cognitive enhancement on its own. The reactivating period of exercise is capable of enhancing memory after three- or seven-sedentary days, but not 14-d. These data suggest a type of "molecular memory" for the exercise stimulus, in that once exercise duration reaches a certain threshold, it establishes a temporal window during which subsequent low-level exercise can capitalize on the neurobiological adaptations induced by the initial period of exercise, enabling it to maintain the benefits on cognitive function. These findings provide new information that may help to guide future clinical studies in exercise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-492
Number of pages8
JournalLearning & memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.)
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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