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PLoS One. 2016 Jul 25;11(7):e0159589. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159589. eCollection 2016.

Acute Exercise and Motor Memory Consolidation: The Role of Exercise Intensity.

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Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Neuroscience & Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Neurological Surgery, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, United States of America.
School of Physical & Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada.
Memory and Motor Rehabilitation Laboratory (MEMORY-LAB), Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital, Montréal Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation (CRIR), Montréal, Québec, Canada.


A single bout of high intensity aerobic exercise (~90% VO2peak) was previously demonstrated to amplify off-line gains in skill level during the consolidation phase of procedural memory. High intensity exercise is not always a viable option for many patient groups or in a rehabilitation setting where low to moderate intensities may be more suitable. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of intensity in mediating the effects of acute cardiovascular exercise on motor skill learning. We investigated the effects of different exercise intensities on the retention (performance score) of a visuomotor accuracy tracking task. Thirty six healthy male subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups that performed either a single bout of aerobic exercise at 20 min post motor skill learning at 45% (EX45), 90% (EX90) maximal power output (Wmax) or rested (CON). Randomization was stratified to ensure that the groups were matched for relative peak oxygen consumption (ml O2/min/kg) and baseline score in the tracking task. Retention tests were carried out at 1 (R1) and 7 days (R7) post motor skill learning. At R1, changes in performance scores were greater for EX90 compared to CON (p<0.001) and EX45 (p = 0.011). The EX45 and EX90 groups demonstrated a greater change in performance score at R7 compared to the CON group (p = 0.003 and p<0.001, respectively). The change in performance score for EX90 at R7 was also greater than EX45 (p = 0.049). We suggest that exercise intensity plays an important role in modulating the effects that a single bout of cardiovascular exercise has on the consolidation phase following motor skill learning. There appears to be a dose-response relationship in favour of higher intensity exercise in order to augment off-line effects and strengthen procedural memory.

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