A couple of months ago when I decided to work out in the middle of the workday, I wanted to both see how it worked logistically, as well as how it impacted my productivity. I found, unsurprisingly, that the lunchtime run or yoga class had a positive effect, making me feel awake and motivated, rather than sluggish and like I needed a large cup of coffee to get through the afternoon’s remaining hours.
But, in fact, working out in general, before work, during it, or after keeps me on my game. And, as much has been written on the benefits of exercise, that’s not a shocking summary. We exercise for our bodies, yes—but we do it for our minds, too.
A recent study reported in Quartz makes the awesome claim that, specifically, as far as the brain is concerned, exercise aids in memory. Researchers at a university in the Netherlands took a group of 72 people and divided them into three groups. All participants were made to memorize 90 image associations. Following the learning session, the first group exercised at a high-intensity for 35 minutes. When they were done working out, they watched nature documentaries. The volunteers in the second group did that in the reverse order: They watched the films then worked out, and the third group just watched the movies. After two days, the 72 participants were tested to see if they could recall the previously memorized image associations. Only the second group—the ones who watched the documentaries and then exercised—showed better memory performance.
The researchers haven’t drawn any conclusions as to why that is, for now they’re linking it to the chemicals in the brain that help our memories form. When we work out, these chemicals (dopamine and noradrenaline) are produced, and apparently, they work best at helping with memory when they’re produced a little while after something new is learned.
Let’s say you want to put this to the test. The next time you learn a new process or a new skill at work, what if you waited a few hours before doing something physically active? I’m not suggesting that at 2 PM, you sit down with your boss to go over the programming codes and at 3 PM you watch movies at your desk until it’s time to leave the office, at which point you head to the gym. But what if, after learning something intensive, you focused on some mindless, more tedious work tasks, and then tacked on a workout?
Wouldn’t it be cool to turn on your computer the next day and see how much you recall from what you learned the day before? Because what if this brain hack really works for you? And frankly, even those among us who consider our memories to be pretty good could probably still use some sharpening. So, while you make your heart and lungs stronger, build muscle in your legs, and tone your abdomen, why not also transform into that person who never forgets anything?
Photo of runners courtesy of Sam Edwards/Getty Images.