Scientists Reveal How Much Exercise You Actually Need for a Better Memory

It's less time than you'd think.

In the name of humans seeking big results for little work, what’s the absolute minimum you can exercise while still getting that euphoric brain boost that accompanies working out?

In a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers did the work to find out exactly how rigorous of a workout is required, while the rest of us sat back in our ergonomic office chairs waiting for an answer.

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Turns out, it’s only 10 minutes, which also happens to be the amount of time it takes to fold a load of laundry.

In a surprisingly reasonable twist, the intensity of the workout is nothing to dread, according to the study. No sprints, no HIIT timer, just moderate activity equivalent to the level of tai chi or yoga. You probably won’t even break a sweat.

Don’t work too hard, either. Combined with a previous study, the research suggests that intense exercise is less beneficial to memory than mild exercise.

Heart rate exercise memory
Participants who exercised barely pushed up their heart rates while simultaneously showing improvements on a memory task.

The brain experiences “increased connectivity” in the hippocampus just from these minimal efforts, study authors Michael Yassa, Ph.D., a neurobiologist at the University of California Irvine, and Hideaki Soya of the Faculty of Health and Sports Sciences at the University of Tsukuba, found. The 10-minute difference on an exercise bike made a world of a difference on brain scans, as there was an increase in neuron signals, which was correlated to better performance on a memory task.

Ten minutes of exercise isn’t enough to create new neurons, but if you’re feeling ambitious, Yassa’s previous research shows that over longer periods of time, creating a new batch of neurons is possible.

So maybe consider setting aside 0.694 percent of the day for some moderate exercise. Researchers at Soya’s lab are already practicing what they preach, taking 10-minute walks as a break. If they can make the time to both do the research and do their research, the rest of us surely can, too.

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