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Clenching Fists May Give the Brain a Memory Boost

Update Date: Apr 25, 2013 08:28 AM EDT

Clenching your fists may help you get a better grip on memory, according to a new study.

What's more, the study found that clenching the right hand improves memory differently than clenching the left hand, leading researchers to suggest a two-part system for improving memory formation and recollection

Researchers explain that balling up the right hand for 90 seconds helps form stronger memories and balling up the left hand helps with memory recall.

The study published in the journal PLOS ONE, involved 51 adults who were asked to memorize and later recall words from a list of 72 words.

Researchers divided the participants into five groups.  The first group clenched their right fist for 90 seconds immediately before memorizing the list and then again immediately before recollecting the words.  The second group clenched their left hand before memorizing and recollecting the words.  The two other groups clenched either their left of right hand before memorizing the words and the opposite hand before recollecting.  The control group did not clench their fists at any point during the experiment.

The study revealed that participants who clenched their right hand when memorizing the list and then clenched their left hand when recollecting the words performed better than all the other groups. 

Lead researcher Ruth Propper of Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, said that the findings suggest that simple body movements can improve memory by temporarily changing the way the brain functions.

"Clenching your right hand immediately prior to learning information and clenching your left hand immediately before recalling it would be helpful to improve memory," Propper told BBC News.

Previous studies havesuggested that clenching the right hand activates the left hemisphere of the brain for encoding memories and clenching the left hand activates the right hemisphere for retrieving them.

"We're cross-wired for body parts, so if you clench your right hand you're really causing a change in the activity of the left side of your brain and if you clench your left hand you're really causing activity to change in the right side of your brain," Propper explained to ABC Science.

Propper said the next step is to examine whether hand clenching can also improve other forms of cognition like verbal or spatial abilities and memories of visual stimuli like remembering faces, pictures and places, as well as words.

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