Can exercise make you smarter? It can say researchers from Sweden. According to their study published today in Translational Sports Medicine, "Aerobic exercise prior to coding improves learning and memory functions in young adults."
It is common for young adults to sit for hours in seminars or review documents with few breaks for physical activity. However, years of research has shown that exercise can help improve brain function. This new study shows that for young adults, mixing exercise into their routine can actually help improve the learning process.
The researchers collected 13 studies from the medical literature examining associations between exercise and brain function in adults between the ages of 18 and 35. They wanted to “evaluate the acute effects of a single training session on learning and memory functions in young adults. ”
The studies examined the effects of three main types of exercise: walking, running, and cycling, and their effects on verbal memory, short-term memory, learning, and visual perception. The training sessions lasted between 2 minutes and an hour. The results were broken down into a mix of light, moderate, and heavy exercises.
When the researchers compared the data, the effects of physical activity were clear. All three types of exercises, regardless of the session length, helped improve memory. "Several cognitive functions associated with learning were improved after an exercise stimulus in the selected studies, such as attention, focus, working memory, short-term memory, long-term memory, verbal language proficiency, and the ability to plan and solve problems," the authors wrote .
The exercise effects can last between half an hour and two full hours. The individual studies disagreed on which intensity was most effective, but when looked at across the board, both medium and high intensity activities gave positive results. "Medium to high-intensity exercise improved learning memory, planning and problem solving, concentration-related cognitive functions, long-term memory, working memory, verbal language proficiency, but not spatial memory, object recognition or passive avoidance learning."
A recovery period is also crucial, the researchers found. According to the studies, a short break of 5 minutes between training and the study was enough to significantly improve attention, concentration and long-term memory.
What does this mean for the average person? Making sure you stay active is a great way to learn and plan. Depending on where you live and how much time you have, biking may not be a realistic activity on an average day in college or at work. However, taking a break for a powerwalk or a stroll during lunch breaks or between classes can be an option to add exercise to your schedule. Bottom line: if you want maximum mental performance, take some time to exercise.
Sean Marsala is a health journalist based out of Philadelphia, PA. With a passion for technology, you can usually find him reading, surfing the internet, and exploring virtual worlds.