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We all know that cycling is good for your physical health. New science suggests it can be very good for your brain too! Researchers from the University of Geneva tested what effects cycling has on memory. Here is what they found.


The euphoric feeling you get after an intense ride is caused by molecules called endocannabinoids. They are produced in your body during physical activity and flow to the brain where they trigger those nice feelings. In theory, they also bind to receptors in the main brain structure for memory processing. That’s why Kinga Igloi, the lead author of this new study, decided to find out what is the link between sport and memory.

Cyclists on the road
Cycling is good for your memory. © Profimedia

Intense cycling is more effective than moderate

Researchers presented 15 young healthy men with a memory test under three different scenarios in this experiment. One was after 30 minutes of moderate cycling, another one after 15 minutes of intense cycling at 80% of their max heart rate, and the last was after a period of rest. The results spoke clearly – the participants performed best in the memory test in the scenario with 15 minutes of intense cycling.

The researchers also did blood tests to measure endocannabinoid levels and observed changes in the activation of brain structures with functional MRI. They saw that the faster individuals are, the more they activate their brain sector for memory and brain structure involved in motor processes. Similarly, their endocannabinoid levels increased more if the intensity of cycling was higher.

“These molecules are involved in synaptic plasticity, the way in which neurons are connected to each other, and thus may act on long-term potentiation, the mechanism for optimal consolidation of memory,” says researcher Blanca Marin Bosch.

Cyclist in Manchester
The participants performed best in the memory test in the scenario with 15 minutes of intense cycling. © Richard Johnson / Caia Image / Profimedia

Cycling after school to improve learning

The same research team previously found that cycling at moderate intensity is better for associative memory. So, it seems that not all forms of memory use the same brain mechanisms and not all intensities of cycling have the same effects. But one thing is clear: in all cases, physical exercise improves memory more than being sedentary. Researchers say that these findings should be used to develop new strategies for improving or preserving memory.

“Sports activity can be an easy-to-implement, minimally-invasive and inexpensive intervention. Would it be useful, for example, to plan a moment of sport at the end of a school morning to consolidate school learning? ” Kinga Igloi suggests.