When you’re wrestling with a problem or facing a challenging mental task, the last thing you might think to do is get up and take a walk. But a quick burst of exercise — even as little as ten minutes — may actually help you achieve better results.
The Many Health Benefits of Exercise
It’s widely known that physical exercise is beneficial to brain function. And researchers have previously found that exercise may slow mental decline.
Being active also results in an increased heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. This helps to foster an environment ideal for making connections between brain cells and aiding in the growth of new brain cells. Regular exercise brings indirect benefits as well — it promotes better sleep, it can improve your mood and reduce stress as well — each of which contributes to better overall cognitive functioning. Plus, there’s always the psychological benefit of ‘clearing your head’ — that rejuvenated thinking that often follows after you’ve taken a break from the task at hand.
The CDC’s current weekly recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity remains a good guideline for adults to maintain. But new research suggests that specific cognitive benefits can occur after even short bursts of activity.
Researchers Find Short-Term Exercises Can Boost Your Brain
At Western University in London, Canada, research conducted by Professor Matthew Heath and master’s student Ashna Samani indicated that an aerobic exercise session of just ten minutes can improve activity in the parts of the brain that help with problem solving and focus. Participants in their study were divided into two sets: one group remained stationary and read a magazine, while the other group spent ten minutes briskly riding a stationary bicycle.
Researchers then used eye-tracking equipment to examine each participant’s reaction times to a cognitively demanding task, designed to challenge areas of the brain responsible for decision-making and inhibition. The post-exercise group showed measurable improvements from their pre-exercise values, representing a 14% gain in cognitive performance in some cases. Heath is underway in another study to determine the duration of the post-exercise cognitive improvement.
A commitment to a regular exercise routine remains beneficial to improved cognitive functioning. However, in light of this new research, next time you are faced with an exam or difficult cognitive task, simply find ten minutes to enjoy a brisk walk or jog; it may help make the job a little easier.
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.