A single bout of moderate aerobic exercise improves motor skill acquisition

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© 2015 Statton et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Long-term exercise is associated with improved performance on a variety of cognitive tasks including attention, executive function, and long-term memory. Remarkably, recent studies have shown that even a single bout of aerobic exercise can lead to immediate improvements in declarative learning and memory, but less is known about the effect of exercise on motor learning. Here we sought to determine the effect of a single bout of moderate intensity aerobic exercise on motor skill learning. In experiment 1, we investigated the effect of moderate aerobic exercise on motor acquisition. 24 young, healthy adults performed a motor learning task either immediately after 30 minutes of moderate intensity running, after running followed by a long rest period, or after slow walking. Motor skill was assessed via a speed-accuracy tradeoff function to determine how exercise might differentially affect two distinct components of motor learning performance: movement speed and accuracy. In experiment 2, we investigated both acquisition and retention of motor skill across multiple days of training. 20 additional participants performed either a bout of running or slow walking immediately before motor learning on three consecutive days, and only motor learning (no exercise) on a fourth day. We found that moderate intensity running led to an immediate improvement in motor acquisition for both a single session and on multiple sessions across subsequent days, but had no effect on between-day retention. This effect was driven by improved movement accuracy, as opposed to speed. However, the benefit of exercise was dependent upon motor learning occurring immediately after exercise-resting for a period of one hour after exercise diminished the effect. These results demonstrate that moderate intensity exercise can prime the nervous system for the acquisition of new motor skills, and suggest that similar exercise protocols may be effective in improving the outcomes of movement rehabilitation programs.




Statton, M. A., Encarnacion, M., Celnik, P., & Bastian, A. J. (2015). A single bout of moderate aerobic exercise improves motor skill acquisition. PLoS ONE, 10(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141393

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