Exercising is a goal for many in the new year, and new research gives another reason to make it a resolution in 2018 (outside of the typical weight loss and heart-health reasons). A new study has shown that working out for even 10 minutes can also enhance mental performance.

Scientists at The University of Western Ontario in Canada found that walking for just 10 minutes can enhance the areas of our brain that help with focus and solving problems, according to a release. For the study, one group of participants read for 10 minutes while another exercised on a stationary bike at a moderate to vigorous pace.

After each group finished, they were given a task that targeted specific areas of the brain involved with executive function. Essentially, these are the skills we all use in order to be successful, functional adults, like thinking before acting, resisting temptations that could be harmful, remaining focused and solving complex problems. The task also required greater eye movement and researchers measured the reaction times, which was representative of performance. Faster reaction times indicated improved mental performance.


People who exercised first not only performed better but were quicker, too. According to study co-author Matthew Heath, exercisers were quicker by 50 milliseconds. This may seem like nothing, but Heath believes it’s fairly impressive.

“That may seem minuscule but it represented a 14 percent gain in cognitive performance in some instances,” Heath said in a statement.

While other studies have shown that exercising is good for the brain, this is the first to link shorter bouts of movement to mental improvement. Heath thinks this study could be used as a starting point to further research exercise and dementia.

Outside of its effects on aging, Heath advises using exercise to enhance mental performance before any big project.

“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 said. “Our study shows the brain’s networks like it. They perform better.”

As we previously reported, researchers in Australia and the United Kingdom found that aerobic exercise seemed to increase part of the hippocampus, which is responsible for helping with memory and gradually gets smaller with age. Outside of memory, exercise is linked to helping with creativity. A study from 2014 indicated that walking helped people think more freely.

Even if exercising more wasn’t on your list of goals for the year, you may want to add it. Plus, what’s 10 minutes a day?