Exercise has a wealth of benefits for the mind and body, and a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has suggested that even short bouts of mild exercise may immediately improve memory function.
In the study, 36 health young adults participated in two experiments linking physical exercise to memory. In both experiments, the participants completed 10 minutes of mild exercise on a recumbent bicycle, or, in the control condition, sat on a stationary bicycle for 10 minutes without pedaling (all participants completed both the experimental and the control conditions on different days in a random order).
In the first experiment, 20 participants completed a memory task involving seeing and then recalling items after they finished exercising. In the second experiment, the other 16 participants completed the same task; however, immediately after they finished exercising, MRI scans of their brain activity were taken.
In both experimental conditions, participants who had exercised performed better on the memory task. In addition, the MRI scans of the exercising participants showed better connectivity in the regions of the brain related to detailed memory processing. On an individual level, higher connectivity on the MRI scans predicted better performance on the recall task.
Previous research has often focused on how exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells, but this experiment showed an immediate benefit of exercise related to memory and connectivity in the brain. One striking aspect of this experiment was that the exercise was very light and only lasted for 10 minutes. As previously reported, 10 minutes per day of exercise can also positively impact heart health and overall longevity. Taking relatively short breaks throughout the day to walk or do some light yoga will likely benefit your heart, brain, and overall health.