At this busy time of year, vegging out in front of the TV might seem like the answer to your prayers, but not if your brain has anything to say about it. New research shows that even short bouts of exercise can stimulate cognition, something that your neural networks are craving.
“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,” says Matthew Health, kinesiology professor at the Western University in London, Ontario, in a press release. “Our study shows the brain’s networks like it. They perform better.”
For a while now, studies have shown the benefits of exercise for brain power and touted its use, for example, to help stave off the effects of aging and the deterioration of cognitive functioning associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s, as research has found that long-term aerobic or resistance-based exercise programs conducted over a period of six weeks or greater have a positive impact on both physical and mental health.
And although for single bouts of exercise the results are more mixed, they generally point to the benefits of even one gym session on brain power. Yet, up until now, the scientific consensus has been that our bodies need at least 20 minutes of exercise in one go in order to boost cerebral blood flow enough to stimulate brain functioning —an assumption challenged by the new finding, which saw positive results from just ten minutes of exercise.
“It was proposed that the physiological changes necessary to promote an executive-related performance benefit require at least 20 min of sustained moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the journal Neuropsychologia. “Our results in combination with other recent work show that a 10-min exercise session can enhance the activity and/or attentional properties of executive-related control mechanisms in both young and older participants,” they write.
Researchers recruited 14 healthy participants from the Western University student community and had them either sit and read a magazine or do ten minutes of exercise on a stationary bicycle, following which both groups completed cognitively-demanding eye movement tests called anti-saccade tasks while their performance was recorded with eye-tracking technology.
The results showed that the exercising students had reaction times that were on average 50 milliseconds faster after getting their ten-minute health fix, which represented a 14 per cent gain in cognitive performance, say the researchers.
“Some people can’t commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity,” said Heath. “This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits.”
The researchers say that their findings may impact clinical practice with regards to helping people who may be unable to perform longer periods of exercise — those with orthopaedic or cognitive impairment, for example — but who could nonetheless handle shorter bursts of activity.