Researchers at the University of Western Ontario asked a group of healthy young adults to either sit down and read a magazine for 10 minutes or ride an exercise bike at a moderate-to-vigorous speed for the same amount of time.
When the participants completed either riding the bike or reading, they were hooked up to eye-tracking devices to monitor their reaction times during a challenging eye movement task. The activity involved the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for problem solving, decision-making and judgment.
"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 percent gain in cognitive performance in some instances," study co-author Matthew Heath said in a press release last week.
It would seem that engaging in 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can provide the brain the necessary spark it needs to perform 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 added. "Our study shows the brain's networks like it. They perform better.
These results may also be beneficial to elderly people with dementia or other similar conditions.
"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," Heath said.
Heath is currently working on a new study to determine how long these bursts of focus last.
Other studies have suggested that even gentle exercise can boost brain function. In a University of Waterloo study published in September, study participants were asked to complete 25 minutes of hatha yoga, 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation and 25 minutes of quiet reading all in random order.
The results revealed that participants who completed the yoga and meditation activities performed better on tasks requiring working memory, cognitive control and cognitive flexibility than those who completed the reading task.