You know those days when you're sitting at your desk and all of a sudden you feel sluggish, foggy, or just incapable of thinking about and focusing on the all-important tasks at hand? That's the worst. Coffee can mask the symptoms, but it's not going to make you feel more productive or prod your brain to think quickly and accurately. These are the days we wish we could get up, walk out, and head to the beach, our favorite restaurant, or our couches for a Netflix marathon. But we can't—we have work to do.
According to Inc.com, a new study from Western University in London, Canada, shows that there is something we can do to boost our brain power almost immediately. It's free, it only takes ten minutes, and it can significantly improve our cognitive function. We just have to get moving. That's right. Aerobic exercise (or any form of sustained exercise that impacts the heart and lungs) can encourage our brains to work harder and faster. Keep scrolling to learn how.
During the experiment, half the participants exercised moderately to vigorously on a stationary bike for 10 minutes. The other half read from a magazine. After, researchers used eye-tracking equipment to judge each participants' eye movement during a cognitive task. What they found was surprising. Those that had exercised showed a boost in brain function, even though they had only exercised for 10 minutes.
"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% gain in cognitive performance in some instances," explained the conductor of the study, kinesiology professor Matthew Heath, who is also a supervisor in the graduate program in neuroscience. "Some people can't commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity. This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits."
They're not sure how long the resulting effect on the brain lasts, though they're undertaking a new study to find just that. Until then, take this as a PSA. Next time you're prepping for a big meeting or presentation or you have a test or interview, consider going for a brisk walk first. It might help you think faster and focus better. "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."