Trouble focusing in the new year? Try a 10-minute BURST of exercise to jumpstart your brain

Now that the holidays are over and we’re all back to working a normal schedule, the short, cold, days of winter produce a mental fog for many that won’t soon abate.

As the euphoria of the season wanes and our festive moods turn dour, it can be a real challenge to stay mentally focused on the tasks at hand. But some researchers believe they have a ‘cure’ of sorts for mental fogginess: A 10-minute burst of exercise.

“Some people can’t commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity,” said Western University of Canada Kinesiology Prof. Matthew Heath, who is also a supervisor in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience and, with master’s student Ashna Samani, conducted the study.

“This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits.”

The research team noted that though previous studies have indicated that you can derive some brain-health benefits following a single 20-minute workout regimen or by committing to a long-term (24-week) full-on exercise program, new data indicate that dedicating just 10 minutes to some form of aerobic activity can jump-start portions of your brain that help with problem-solving and focus. (Related: Consciousness, cognitive function, memory storage: Scientists study the role of the thalamus.)

For their study, the researchers instructed participants to either sit and read a magazine or do 10 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise on a stationary bike. After the reading and exercise sessions, researchers used eye-tracking equipment to analyze study participants’ reaction times to an eye movement task that was cognitively demanding.

The task aimed to challenge sectors of the brain that are responsible for executive function like inhibition and decision-making.

“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,” said Heath, who is also an associate member of Western’s Brain and Mind Institute.

Similarly, he is now conducting a study to find out how long the benefits last following the burst of exercise.

Researchers believe their work has a great deal of significance, especially for older people who may be in the earliest stages of dementia and who are becoming less and less mobile. Heath also said he believes the research will benefit those who want to gain a quick, natural mental edge in their work.

“I always tell my students before they write a test or an exam or go into an interview — or do anything that is cognitively demanded — they should get some exercise first,” said Health. “Our study shows the brain’s networks like it. They perform better.”

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Okay, so now you know that short bursts of aerobic exercise can help you shake the doldrums and make you more mentally capable — at work, at home, or at school. But how do you get a short workout in if you’re nowhere near a gym?

Here are a few things you can do:

— Take the stairs: If you work in a multi-level business office environment, it’s easy to just walk down the hall and take the elevator. But if you choose instead to use the stairs (going both up and down), you’ll get a much-needed cardio workout that both your brain and heart will love you for.

— Fast-walk: Take a quick trip up and down the hallways. Get that heart rate up.

— Bring your own bike: If you’re at home and you’ve got a stationary bike, hop on it for 10 minutes. If you work out of the home, see if the boss will let you bring one to work.

— Squats: Like jogging in place, you can also do air squats in place. These are good for your glutes and legs and will get your blood pumping.

What you should not do: Down one of those “energy” drinks, and here are a lot of reasons why.

J.D. Heyes is editor of The National Sentinel and a senior writer for Natural News and News Target.

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