Previous studies have shown mental health benefits after 20 minutes of an exercise workout, but a recent study by Matthew Heath, PhD, Professor, School of Kinesiology, and Supervisor-Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario, shows that cognition undergoes a quick boost after only 10 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise.
The finding, published in the Jan. 8, 2018 issue of Neuropsychologia, has widespread implications, for example, for older people in early stages of dementia, who might want to jump-start their thought processes. It is a boon, also, for people who can’t commit to a longer-term exercise regimen due to time constraints or physical incapacity, Dr. Heath said.
How the Study Worked. For the study, participants in the control (sedentary) group sat and read a magazine for 10 minutes; those in the active group used an exercise bike for a 10-minute burst of exercise. After the 10-minute period, participants’ brainpower was rated using eye-tracking equipment that measured reaction times to an eye movement task (the antisaccade task: completion of a nonstandard task). It is thought that the single-bout of exercise increases cerebral blood flow to executive-related cortical structures in the brain.
Immediate Improvement. Those who exercised showed immediate improvement in executive-related control compared to the sedentary group, representing up to a 14 percent gain in cognitive performance. Executive-related control is a person’s ability to process and attend single and multiple stimuli, update and monitor working memory, and assert a high level of inhibitory control.
The Takeaway. Even minimal exercise can enhance cognitive performance. Dr. Heath suggests that anyone undergoing a test or exam should get some exercise first, to give them a cognitive edge, even though it is not yet known if the results are long-term or limited in duration.
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