How 10 minutes of brief exercise can help your brain

October 24, 2018 11:00 am
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A new neurological study shows that just 10 minutes of mild exercise can improve memory function. Gretchen Reynolds explores this concept in her article.

The benefits of exercise on health

In the past, there have been multiple studies showing the benefits of exercise. Studies with mice and rats found that the animals develop more brain cells when they are running. The new cells that developed concentrated in the hippocampus, a crucial part of the brain for memory. The rodents were able to perform better on memory and learning tests after exercise.

Past studies have also shown that people who regularly exercise have a larger and healthier hippocampus than those who do not. Maintaining a healthy hippocampus is particularly important for elders.

A new study testing mild exercise

The study was published in September in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was conducted by scientists from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Tsukuba in Japan. Within the study, the scientists recruited a group of 36 healthy young college students. The scientists then invited them to sit stationary on a  bicycle for 10 minutes before completing a computerized memory test. In this test, they were briefly shown a picture followed by a group of other random images before being shown either the same picture or a similar one. The students were then asked to press buttons, indicating if they thought the two pictures were the same.

On another day, the students were asked to pedal the bicycle at a pace so gentle it barely raised their heart rates for 10 minutes. Immediately after, they were asked to complete the same test. The scientists discovered that the students were better at remembering images after the bike ride, especially when the images were more similar.


How the benefits from exercise can be accessed by anyone

Unexpectedly, the students’ brains also worked differently after the exercise. MRI scans show that physically separate parts of the brain were better connected after exercise than they were before. Greater coordination between different areas of the brain was associated with improved performance on the memory test.

These findings show that even mild exercise can have an immediate effect on the brain. Even without exerting themselves, anyone, including those who are out of shape or disabled, may be able to exercise their brains.

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This post was written by Helen