Working out—whether you’re sweating under some iron, going for a quick run, or busting out a quick 20 pushups—is often a good way to clear your head. In a sense, your old high school gym coach’s “get your blood pumping” tactic really can help you get some perspective on a problem or issue with which you’ve been dealing.
In fact, you don’t even need to get your blood pumping that hard. Just a 10-minute session of aerobic exercise can give your brain a jolt, boosting your decision-making process and improving your focus, according to a new study published in Neuropsychologia.
In the study, researchers tasked healthy young adults with either lounging and reading a magazine (the control group), or doing 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on a stationary bike (the active group). Then, the researchers used eye-tracking tech to examine the participants’ reaction times in a cognitive test.
The results? “Those who had exercised showed immediate improvement,” said study co-author Matthew Heath, a professor of kinesiology and a supervisor in the neuroscience graduate program at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. “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% gain in cognitive performance in some instances.”
So next time you’re wrestling with a challenging problem or have to make a big decision, try setting a timer for 10 minutes and going for a quick run or spin or do some other aerobically challenging exercise. It could help clear any brain fog or uncertainty.
“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,” says Heath. “Our study shows the brain’s networks like it.”