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Can 10 minutes of exercise increase cognitive function? The research says YES!

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Do you think better when you are on the move? Here at The Science Of Coaching we noticed that we become more creative when we moved our bodies! We wanted to investigate why, the science behind movement and how this can be integrated into coaching.

I remember back in the 80s when I was a kid, noticing TV programmes and documentaries about Japanese businesses and how they enforce exercise on a compulsory basis every morning before work for their employees. Now I understand how advanced the Japanese were relating to their understanding of exercise enhanced cognitive function.

A recent study in 2017 shown here looked at the effect of walking, on cognitive function, and academic skills. Students from elementary, middle, high school, and college walked for 10 min prior to completing memory, and mathematical problem-solving tasks. It was shown that just 10 minutes of walking had a significant positive effect on memory and ability to complete the tasks with poorly achieving high-school students performing significantly better. So how does this work?

Exercise enhanced cognition is related to blood flow. Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better. The hippocampus (a part of the brain critical for learning and memory) is highly active during exercise. When this is active our cognitive function improves. Other recent work indicates that aerobic exercise can actually reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age, and consequently boosts memory in more mature adults. Further research is here

Other studies have shown that carrying out cognitive exercises with motor exercises can increase cognitive reserve when we may go into degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's (Fabian Herold,* Dennis Hamacher, Lutz Schega, and Notger G. Müller 2018)

I’ve spoken to many people about this phenomena and they say that they already know about it. So if we already know about it why are we not utilising this for our clients, employees and our children?

It’s very difficult to force exercise before work or school but in some cases it seems like encouraging it might be beneficial to our children's and employees health and potentially our business outcomes and performance.

How Is This Related To Coaching?

Although as coaches we are generally encouraging people to be resourceful and find the answers internally, a question around movement may encourage another line of thought. Or would movement during coaching be useful? I would love to hear your thoughts. Walk and talk coaching could be seen to be beneficial if you take into account the research shown in the studies above.

As a leader can you encourage exercise or provide coaching around the importance of exercise? Will this help? Some companies are encouraging people to get off the bus or tram stop earlier. Will getting out of the lift a couple of floors earlier, walking up the stairs or taking regular movement breaks inside and out of the office help? All small changes which might increase the performance and health of your people.

As parents, the results above are clear. Is it possible to encourage children to to do some kind of exercise before school instead of dropping them off just outside in the car? This may increase their memory and cognitive ability.

Any small changes no matter how small they are, appear to make a difference. How will you initiate that transformational change?

Caroline Langston is the Founder of Successful Consultants Ltd, an executive, personal and career development coaching company in Hong Kong, with her partner Patrick Bennett founding the practice in New York. She is also the Founder of Recruiters Give Back, a nonprofit providing free information and coaching to people who are unemployed. Caroline is dedicated to coaching people for success and happiness in their careers and lives. She is a Certified Professional Coach at International Coaching Federation standards. Certified Team Coach and is also degree qualified with further certifications in Neuro Linguistic Programming at Master Practitioner and Coach level.


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