Exercise can jumpstart your brain

Research showed improvements in the participants' working memory were similar after spending 20 minutes on a treadmill and consuming a single serving of caffeine

good as coffee

Just 20 minutes of exercise is as good as a coffee for our working memory, according to a new, first-of-its-kind study. Exercise may be just as good, if not better, than coffee for jumpstarting the brain.

In a new study, which appears in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers compared the effects of caffeine and exercise on working memory and concluded that acute exercise can be as good for the mind as it is for the body.

How many of us use caffeine to fire up those little gray cells in the morning, or when we want to nail that deadline?

The side effects of caffeine

As good as a cup of coffee sounds, there is no escaping the fact that caffeine is a psychoactive substance and that some side effects come with it.

The side effects of caffeine consumption have been the inspiration for a new study that Harry Prapavessis — the director of the Exercise and Health Psychology Laboratory at Western University in Ontario, Canada — recently led.

Read more: Coffee is not as useful as you think. It’s rather dangerous!

Together with former graduate student Matthew Fagan and graduate student Anisa Morava, Prapavessis compared the effects of exercise and caffeine.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, they write, no previous studies “have examined acute exercise in comparison to caffeine administration on either cognition or caffeine withdrawal symptoms.”

Despite the positives we know about caffeine, the negatives can often outweigh the benefits. Anxiety-like symptoms, body tremors, and, of course, withdrawal, all have an association with the regular consumption of caffeine.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise that 4–5 cups of coffee is a safe intake. However, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, and the following symptoms may indicate too much caffeine:

  • insomnia
  • raised heart rate
  • anxiety
  • upset stomach
  • muscle tremors

Why ‘breaking up’ with coffee is so hard

Caffeine withdrawal can be an unwelcome surprise for anyone trying to cut down. Nausea, fatigue, low energy, irritability, low mood, and a “foggy brain” are all common symptoms.

Keeping the brain alert without side effects

Recent research has suggested that just a single bout of exercise improves mood and cognition. Countless other studies suggest that physical exercise can bring health benefits, such as fighting disease and extending life.

What is working memory?

Working memory is key to our ability to function as a curious human being. It helps the learning process and makes it possible to store information, such as phone numbers or a shopping list, in the short term.

Read more: Can exercise improve our mental health?

To test this functional part of our cognition, the team used an n-back test, which resembles the card game pairs or snap. In such games, the aim is to spot the repetition of items that appear in succession.

In the study at Western, the researchers presented the participants with a list of items. As with the popular card game, they had to spot any repeats of an item.

Online Int’l News with additional input by GVS News Desk

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