Numerous studies have provided evidence that physical activity promotes cortical plasticity in the adult brain and in turn facilitates learning. However, until now, the effect of simultaneous physical activity (e.g. bicycling) on learning performance has not been investigated systematically. The current study aims at clarifying whether simultaneous motor activity influences verbal learning compared to learning in a physically passive situation. Therefore the learning behavior of 12 healthy subjects (4 male, 19-33 years) was monitored over a period of 3 weeks. During that time, behavioral and electrophysiological responses to memorized materials were measured. We found a larger N400 effect and better performance in vocabulary tests when subjects were physically active during the encoding phase. Thus, our data indicate that simultaneous physical activity during vocabulary learning facilitates memorization of new items.
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"On a critical note, one potential limitation of the current study is that participants did not complete an immediate recall test at the end of each experimental session. We deliberately omitted this test to keep the present study comparable to previous ones, where performance was not tested immediately after the encoding phase either [20,22]. However in a recent, not yet published study, we have implemented this additional test. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Moderate physical activity improves various cognitive functions, particularly when it is applied simultaneously to the cognitive task. In two psychoneuroendocrinological within-subject experiments, we investigated whether very low-intensity motor activity, i.e. walking, during foreign-language vocabulary encoding improves subsequent recall compared to encoding during physical rest. Furthermore, we examined the kinetics of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in serum and salivary cortisol. Previous research has associated both substances with memory performance.
In both experiments, subjects performed better when they were motorically active during encoding compared to being sedentary. BDNF in serum was unrelated to memory performance. In contrast we found a positive correlation between salivary cortisol concentration and the number of correctly recalled items. In summary, even very light physical activity during encoding is beneficial for subsequent recall.
"We assessed how acute exercise and in particular exercise during encoding affects the memorization of new vocabulary, and whether possible effects are related to peripheral BDNF levels and to the BDNF val66 met polymorphism as so far only one study has investigated the influence of acute exercise and peripheral BDNF on verbal learning . Recently we have found that exercising during vocabulary learning at a light to moderate intensity level resulted in better performance compared to learning while being physically inactive . In that combined electroencephalographic and behavioral study we observed both higher accuracy in vocabulary tests and larger N400 effects in a cross-language priming paradigm for the group which was asked to exercise on a cycle ergometer during auditory vocabulary learning. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Acute physical activity has been repeatedly shown to improve various cognitive functions. However, there have been no investigations comparing the effects of exercise during verbal encoding versus exercise prior to encoding on long-term memory performance. In this current psychoneuroendocrinological study we aim to test whether light to moderate ergometric bicycling during vocabulary encoding enhances subsequent recall compared to encoding during physical rest and encoding after being physically active. Furthermore, we examined the kinetics of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in serum which has been previously shown to correlate with learning performance. We also controlled for the BDNF val66met polymorphism. We found better vocabulary test performance for subjects that were physically active during the encoding phase compared to sedentary subjects. Post-hoc tests revealed that this effect was particularly present in initially low performers. BDNF in serum and BDNF genotype failed to account for the current result. Our data indicates that light to moderate simultaneous physical activity during encoding, but not prior to encoding, is beneficial for subsequent recall of new items.
"To illustrate, a recent study by Schmidt-Kassow et al.  focused on the N400 component to determine the effects of exercising on vocabulary learning. The findings indicated that participants who were physically active during vocabulary learning performed better in vocabulary tests and also showed a larger N400 effect over central and right hemispheric electrode sites in reaction to the prime–target mismatch condition (e.g., apple–dog). "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We investigated the relative efficacy of extensive reading (ER) and paired-associate learning (PAL) in the ability of second language (L2) learners to retain new vocabulary words. To that end, we combined behavioral measures (i.e., vocabulary tests) and an event-related potential (ERP) investigation with a focus on the N400 ERP component to track short- and long-term vocabulary retention as a consequence of the two different approaches. Behavioral results indicated that both ER and PAL led to substantial short-term retention of the target words. In contrast, on a long-term basis, ER was more effective than PAL to a considerable degree as indicated by a large-size effect (d=1.35). Evidence from the N400 effects (d=1.70) observed in the parietal electrode group (P3, Pz, P4) provided further support for the superior effects of ER over PAL on long-term vocabulary retention. The converging evidence challenges the assumptions of some L2 researchers and makes a significant contribution to the literature of vocabulary acquisition, because it provides the first ERP evidence that ER is more conducive to long-term vocabulary retention than PAL.
Full-text · Article · Jun 2012 · Neuroscience Letters