Acute exercise performed before and after motor practice enhances the positive effects on motor memory consolidation

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Performing a single bout of exercise can enhance motor learning and long-term retention of motor skills. Parameters such as the intensity and when the exercise bout is performed in relation to skill practice (i.e., timing) likely influence the effectiveness. However, it is still not fully understood how exercise should be administered to maximize its effects and how exercise interacts with distinct components of skill learning. Here, we expand this knowledge by investigating the potential synergistic effects of performing acute exercise both prior to and following motor practice. Sixty-four, able-bodied, young adult male participants practiced a sequential visuomotor accuracy tracking (SVAT) task requiring rapid and accurate force modulation and high levels of precision control using intrinsic hand muscles. The task also contained a repeated pattern of targets that allowed sequence-specific skill improvements. Sequential and non-sequential motor performance was assessed at baseline, immediately after motor practice, and again seven days later. One group performed moderate-intensity exercise before practice (PREMO), a second group performed high-intensity exercise after practice (POSTHI), a third group exercised both before and after practice (PREMO + POSTHI), and a fourth group did not exercise during these periods (CON). Regardless of the exercise condition, acute exercise improved long-term retention of the skill by countering performance decay between experimental sessions (i.e., a 7-day interval). Furthermore, exercising both before and after motor practice led to the greatest improvements in skilled performance over time. We found that the effects of exercise were not specific to the practiced sequence. Namely, the effects of exercise generalized across sequential and non-sequential target positions and orders. This suggests that acute exercise works through mechanisms that promote general aspects of motor memory (e.g., lasting improvements in fast and accurate motor execution). The results demonstrate that various exercise protocols can promote the stabilization and long-term retention of motor skills. This effect can be enhanced when exercise is performed both before and after practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107830
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)

    Research areas

  • Consolidation, Encoding, Exercise, Motor learning, Motor memory, Retention

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