You may not need to commit to a long-term exercise program to reap some of the brain benefits associated with physical activity.
A new Canadian study shows that engaging in a 10-minute, one-time burst of aerobic activity can temporarily boost your brain power, enhancing focus and problem-solving skills. In some measures, participants saw a 14 percent increase in cognitive abilities.
Previous research has shown cognitive benefits after engaging in a single 20-minute bout of exercise, or by committing to a long-term (24-week) exercise program, but this study suggests that even 10 minutes of aerobic activity can prime the parts of the brain that help us problem-solve and focus.
“Some people can’t commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity,” said kinesiology professor Dr. Matthew Heath, a supervisor in the graduate program in neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario. “This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits.”
Heath, who conducted the study with master’s student Ashna Samani, asked the study participants to either sit and read a magazine or to engage in 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise in a stationary bicycle.
Once the reading or exercise sessions were over, the researchers used eye-tracking equipment to examine participants’ reaction times to a cognitively demanding eye movement task. The task was designed to challenge areas of the brain responsible for executive function such as decision-making and inhibition.
“Those who had exercised showed immediate improvement. Their responses were more accurate and their reaction times were up to 50 milliseconds shorter than their pre-exercise values. That may seem minuscule but it represented a 14 percent gain in cognitive performance in some instances,” said Heath, who is also an associate member of Western’s Brain and Mind institute.
Heath is currently conducting a study to determine how long the benefits may last following exercise.
The new findings have significant implications for older people in the early stages of dementia who may be less mobile, he said, and for anyone else looking to gain a quick mental edge in their work.
“I always tell my students before they write a test or an exam or go into an interview, or do anything that is cognitively demanding, they should get some exercise first,” Heath said. “Our study shows the brain’s networks like it. They perform better.”
Source: University of Western Ontario