You probably know that a regular exercise routine helps more than just your body, but apparently as little as a 10-minute walk may be enough to increase the way your brain communicates between its regions and to enhance your ability to learn and remember. Past research has supported the idea that exercise boosts brain function, but a group of researchers recently discovered that the amount of activity doesn’t need to be as long or as intense as once thought to see positive effects on your brain. These new findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America and are pretty encouraging.
Researchers had 36 college students come to the lab twice, once to sit quietly on a stationary bike and another time to pedal slowly for just 10 minutes—not even enough to break a sweat. In fact, it barely raised their heart rate.
Then the researchers challenged the student’s memory to see if the exercise improved their ability to recall images. While under an MRI, the students were shown a series of very similar pictures on a computer and had to indicate whether each image was a new one in the series or one they’d already seen during the activity.
Even though the workout wasn’t too taxing or prolonged, the students remembered images way better after they had ridden the bicycle, compared to just sitting around. In fact, the more difficult the memory task was (that is, when the images were incredibly similar and hard to differentiate), the better the students performed. In other words, the harder their memories had to work, the more benefits they got from the quick exercise.
When the doctors reviewed the MRI results, they found that after exercise, the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory) communicated better with the parts of the brain related to learning. That means that even a very quick, mild workout improved how well these two separate regions of the brain were able to communicate with each other.
These findings add to a growing collection of studies about exercise and boosting memory, providing hope that you don’t need to churn away at the gym to enhance how your brain functions—something as simple as 10 minutes of yoga, tai chi, or casual walking can do the trick. So, the next time you’re cramming for an exam or preparing for a project at work, just throw on your sneakers and head outside for a quick few minutes of movement to get an added boost.