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The surprising impact a 10-minute walk can have on your brain

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Susan Devaney
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Doing some light physical activity is definitely something your future self will thank you for. 

While some of us love taking part in team sports or going on an evening run; others struggle to find the motivation. And we get it: after a long hard day at the office, putting on a pair of trainers and working up a sweat can seem a lot less appealing than catching up on the Bodyguard.

But, as it turns out, some light (and easy) physical activity can really work wonders for your health – especially your memory.

According to a recent study from the University of California, just 10 minutes of simple physical activity – such as walking, yoga or tai chi – can boost brain connectivity and help the brain to distinguish between similar memories.

The researchers recruited 36 healthy volunteers (all twenty-something) to carry out 10 minutes of light exercise – at 30% of their peak oxygen intake – before assessing their general memory ability. Then the exact same test was carried out on the same volunteers but without exercise.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered that in the brains of those who had exercised there was enhanced communication between the hippocampus – a region responsible for memory storage – and the cortical brain regions, which are involved in the recollection of memories. 

Just 10 minutes of simple physical activity – such as walking, yoga or tai chi – can boost brain connectivity

“The memory task really was quite challenging,” said Michael Yassa, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, and project co-leader, according to the Guardian. All of the volunteers were shown images of everyday objects – from picnic baskets to broccoli – and then they were all tested on how well they remembered the images. “We used very tricky similar items to see if they would remember whether it was this exact picnic basket versus that picnic basket,” he said.

In short: the volunteers who had exercised were better at remembering the images than those who hadn’t.

The study also kept track of the participants’ mood changes, too. “With exercise you do get an enhanced mood. The question is whether that was explaining the effect we got on the behaviour or the effect we got on the brain and it wasn’t,” said Yassa.

According to the NHS, we’re all recommended to get 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. But broken down this equates to just 30 minutes per day over five days. So going for a walk on your lunch break or walking a longer route home can really improve your health (and memory).

Something which the researchers have started to implement after their findings.

“I try to do walking meetings every now and then, and we try to get up every couple of hours and go for a nice 10-minute walk. Based on my experience, not only is the group more productive, but we’re happier,” Yassa said.

Time for a walk? Check out some of London’s best walks.

Images: Unsplash / Getty 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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