Concentration levels and problem-solving skills are boosted by ‘the power of exercise’, new research has shown.

To test the impact that physical activity has on cognition, a group of competitive gamers, who specialise in mind games like chess, were tracked as they undertook an exercise programme.

The results show that after just four months of regular exercise, their mental performance was significantly enhanced. Their international gaming rankings shot up by 75% while their cognitive function, on average, improved by 10%.

Organised by sportswear company ASICS, the study saw the gamers follow a programme of cardio and strength training designed by former runner and coach, Andrew Kastor. It saw the gamers’ exercise levels increase until they were doing 150 minutes of exercise a week.

Professor Brendon Stubbs, a researcher who specialises in movement and the mind, developed the experiment. He said: “We all know that exercise is good for our mental and physical health but the impact on cognitive functioning has been less explored. We wanted to examine the effects of exercise on people who depend on their cognitive abilities – competitive mind gamers.

“Our results show significant improvements in their cognitive functioning, including concentration levels and problem-solving abilities.”

Other key findings from the study included improvements in:

  • Problem solving abilities – 9%
  • Short-term memory – 12%
  • Processing speed and alertness – 10%.

Along with concentration improving by 33%, other mental wellbeing scores improved, including group confidence (44%) and anxiety levels (reducing by 43%). The findings show that exercising can be as good at improving cognitive function as learning to play an instrument, learning another language or daily reading.

Professor Stubbs said: “Exercise stimulates cell growth in the brain and rapidly increases blood flow to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, mechanisms that enable us to better retain memories, process information and problem solve quickly.

“From increasing focus when revising for an exam or improving alertness before a work presentation, exercise truly can enhance brain power.”

Andrew Kastor added: “These results are astonishing and speak to the power of exercise. Many of the gamers couldn’t jog for longer than a minute at the start of the study, so their training programmes had to be moderate. 150 minutes a week sounds a lot but when you break it down this could be 5 sets of 30 minutes. No matter your fitness levels, the mental benefits of exercise are accessible to all.”

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