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Neuroscience Says 6 to 10 Minutes a Day Can Make You Smarter and More Focused, and Even Increase the Size of Your Brain Surprisingly, one study shows that even two minutes of this type of activity provides clear cognitive benefits.

Neuroscience Says 6 to 10 Minutes a Day Can Make You Smarter and More Focused, and Even Increase the Size of Your Brain Surprisingly, one study shows that even two minutes of this type of activity provides clear cognitive benefits.

May 21, 2024 By admin

In the same way that more than 80 percent of people surveyed think they are above-average drivers, and fewer than 1 percent consider themselves “worse than average” (each a mathematical impossibility), I like to think I’m smart. Not extremely smart. Not super smart. Just smart.


And I would definitely like to be smarter.

Fortunately, it’s possible to improve your ability to learn, retain, and use what you learn. But that takes a lot of work.

Or not.  

If you want to increase your learning speed, make smarter decisions, and increase your overall level of intelligence, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that just six to 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise can improve your working memory and significantly improve higher-level cognitive skills like organization, prioritization, and planning.

If you’re wondering, “moderate exertion” involves things like fast walking. Slow jogging. Climbing stairs. Think any activity that, while not easy, will still allow you to carry on a conversation. “Vigorous exertion” is just what it sounds like: cycling, swimming, HIIT workouts, fast jogging, etc.


On the flip side, not getting a little exercise can have a negative impact on your mental abilities. The study found that cognition declined by 1 to 2 percent — not a lot, granted, but still — when eight minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity was replaced by sitting.

As the researchers write:

Relative to time spent in other behaviors, greater MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) was associated with higher cognitive scores. Loss of MVPA time, given its smaller relative amount, appears most deleterious.

Efforts should be made to preserve MVPA time, or reinforce it in place of other behaviors.

Yep: if you want to get smarter, get moving for at least six minutes a day.

Or more, if you like. The study found that the more time you spend exercising — obviously up to a point — the greater the mental benefits. (And, of course, the physical benefits.) 

Other research agrees. For one thing, exercise can slow or even reverse the physical decay of your brain. Contrary to conventional wisdom, new brain cells can be created: Research shows exercise can increase the size of your hippocampus, even in your 60s and 70s, mitigating the impact of age-related memory loss. (Having witnessed what dementia did to my father, that’s one of the many reasons I spend about an hour exercising at least five times a week.)


Then again, if six to 10 minutes sounds like too much, a meta-review of a number of studies published in Transitional Sports Medicine found that even “aerobic exercise for two minutes at moderate-to-high intensity improved attention, concentration, and learning and memory functions for up to two hours.”

If you want a longer-term boost — who doesn’t? — a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that participants who walked briskly — shooting for a target heart rate of 60 to 75 percent of max — for 40 minutes, three times a week, increased hippocampal volume by slightly over 2 percent.

I know. That’s a lot of research. Sum it all up, and a few minutes of exercise will help improve learning and memory. A few more minutes will improve your planning and organizational skills. Movement makes you smarter.

And healthier.

What does “moderate exertion” look like in real life? The goal is to get your heart rate to somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of max. Generally speaking, max heart rate is 220 beats per minute minus your age. If you’re in your 60s (hi, me!), your max heart rate is somewhere around 160 beats per minute; 60 percent of that means “moderate exertion” raises it to approximately 100 beats per minute. 

At that rate, I can carry on a conversation while only occasionally having to pause to take a deep breath or two. That’s the goal: increased heart rate, without undue strain.


Any form of exercise — jogging, easy spin on an exercise bike, bodyweight training, etc. — that gets me there works.

And that’s the key. Pick an activity or activities you like to do. Consistency, in this and nearly everything else, is the key. Pick one thing you’ll be willing, if not happy, to do every day. 

Not only will you get smarter, you’ll also be a little healthier.

Can’t beat that.

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