Memory and High Intensity Exercise
Katelyn Sander

Memory and High Intensity Exercise

Living Well

Remembrance is powerful. Our past experiences build who we are. Our ability to remember, re-experience emotions, draw from the past, these things contribute to our wisdom, compassion, and joy.

What would life be without memories? While I certainly can’t remember everything, I can recall quite a bit. I don’t take this for granted and am keen to preserve my memory for many reasons. The fact that exercise can boost memory is a powerful, awesome mover for me.

As many of you know, exercise increases your heart and respiration rate effectually pumping more blood and oxygen to the brain. It also releases hormones which encourage growth of new brain cells and stimulates connections in vital cortical areas. Essentially, in brains of any age, exercise creates an environment that encourages new cellular growth and development.

Aging is associated with the atrophy of key structures in the brain. This can lead to overall impaired cognitive function with high-interference memory being particularly vulnerable to age related changes. Interference occurs when specific memories compete, making it difficult to retrieve or clearly remember a single memory. It can result in confusion, forgetting certain memories entirely, and may interfere with learning and the creation of new memories. It may also compromise the ability to make sound decisions, impact confidence, and social interactions. 

While both moderate, steady state cardio and HIIT training are effective at increasing brain derived neurotrophic factor, to date only HIIT training seems to effectively improve high-interference memory. As increases in cardiorespiratory fitness have been shown to correlate with improvements in memory, it is plausible increases in oxygen utilization may contribute to this specific benefit.

Anyone who does HIIT training knows that training at high intensities requires a certain amount of focus, drive, and motivation. I’ve detailed the winning recipe for a memory boosting workout in the Workout of the Day. Give it a try. 4 by 4-minute intervals at 90-95%?! That’s challenging stuff. Physically and mentally. So, I’m curious if the additional mental engagement required might have played a role as well.

Whatever the mechanism, the news is great. And to top it all off, high intensity workouts are typically shorter, require fewer sessions to yield positive results, AND can be fun.


Bekinschtein, P., Oomen, C. A., Saksida, L. M., and Bussey, T. J. 2011. Effects of environmental enrichment and voluntary exercise on neurogenesis, learning and memory, and pattern separation: BDNF as a critical variable? Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology. 22(5): 536-542.

Fjell, A. M., McEvoy, L., Holland, D., Dale, A. M., Walhovd, K. B., and Initiative, A. S. D. N. 2014. What is normal in normal aging? Effects of aging, amyloid and Alzheimer's disease on the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus. Progressive Neurobiology. 117: 20-40.

Kovacevic, A., Fenesi, B., Paolucci, E., and Heisz. J.J.  2019. The effects of aerobic exercise intensity on memory in older adults. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 45(6): 591-600.

Inspiration of the Day

“… errors in HRmax estimation can be in excess of 11 b/min. Consequently, it is likely that current equations used to estimate HRmax are not accurate enough for prescribing exercise training heart rate ranges for a large number of individuals.” – Robergs & Landwehr

Live Workout of the Day

Today is going to be a great day because we’ve got our THREE regular live workouts for you to join!


Join Adriana for your morning pick-me-up! This workout will focus on moving through a full range of motion and develop your full body control, flexibility, and usable range.

Recommended equipment: yoga block or pillow

Join Adriana at 7:30am (45 minutes) from your own living room.

Click here to join the workout.

Meeting ID: 812 2541 6617
Password: 013104


Get an amazing cardiovascular workout on an indoor bike. The workout will simulate an outdoor ride, including a mix of intervals and hills.

Recommended equipment: bike trainer

Join James at 11:00am (45 minutes) from your own living room.

Click here to join the workout.

Meeting ID: 862 7308 7908
Password: 263088


This workout will challenge you to your max! Come out and perform the prescribed workout for the day. This workout utilizes all your skills, from coordination to endurance and strength. No equipment necessary, you’ll just need your body weight!

Join Gavin today at 12:00pm (35 minutes) from your own living room.

Click here to join the workout.

Meeting ID: 842 2984 9491
Password: 510345


Click here to view this week’s schedule.

To learn more about our virtual live workouts, please reach out to Lauren directly.

Trainer Moves of the Day

The researchers in the study used treadmill walking as the exercise mode, and manipulated incline in order to create the appropriate changes in intensity. You could easily bike or run instead if you prefer. And if you’re outside looking for a low intensity alternative, see if you can find a 4-minute stairwell or steep hill!

  • 5 minute low intensity (50-70% MRH)
  • 10 minute aerobic intensity (60-70% MHR)
  • 4 minutes threshold pace (91-95% MHR)
  • 3 minute active recovery (50-70% MHR)

Repeat 4 times

Cool down:
  • 3 minutes (50-70% MHR)

For questions about today’s Trainer Moves you can connect directly with Meg here.

Recognizing the limitations in estimating a person’s heart rate training zones without individual testing, this calculator allows you to take into account resting heart rate and gender. 

Intensity Guidelines:

Note that using heart rate training zones have limitations.  For example, cycling workouts will typically elicit a lower heart rate response for the same exertion compared to running workouts.  Variables such as psychological stress, fatigue and dehydration will also alter heart rate response, making it difficult to gauge how hard you are or more importantly should be working.  As you continue to train, make notes of your heart rate and how you feel.  You will be able to create a more accurate training table for yourself and may even find you notice you are able to work harder with a slightly lower heart rate than before.  This change may be reflected in a decrease in your resting heart rate.





RPE 10 max

Typical Interval



Zone # (1-7)






“VERY easy”



Active Recovery





Zone 1




60+ minutes


Aerobic or “all day pace”

Zone 2




20-90 minutes


“Race Pace”

Zone 3




5-30 minutes


Continuous sensation of “serious effort”.  Conversation is difficult.  Motivation and concentration needs to remain high.

Zone 4


VO2 Max


3-8 minutes


Strong to severe sensations of “burning” or fatigue.  Consecutive days of training at this level typically not possible.

Zone 5


Anaerobic Capacity


30 sec – 2min


Severe sensations of “burning” or fatigue.  Conversation impossible.

Zone 6


Neuromuscular Power


>15 sec


Maximum effort

Zone 7


*HRR or Heart Rate Reserve:  The difference between your resting HR and your maximum HR (220-age for males, 226-age for females). 

Now calculate your training zones by adding RHR to a % of HRR.

For example, a 48 year old female with a resting heart rate of 62 would have a HRR of 116 bpm (226-48-62).  This athletes Tempo Training HR Range is theoretically 156-166 bpm.


Do you have a “Something of the Day” you’d like us to share?! Email Meg.

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