Get an instant memory boost with just 10 minutes of gentle activity

We all know that exercise can help with lots of things: feeling good, focusing at work, living longer - but how much exercise do we need to do before we notice the gains?

10 minutes is all it takes, according to researchers from University California Irvine and Japan's University of Tsukaba. While Schwarzenegger-level abs often take years of honing, you can give yourself an instant memory boost with just 10 minutes of gentle activity like yoga, tai chi, or a leisurely walk.

What did the study involve?

The study involved 36 university-aged students. Each was shown a series of photographs of everyday objects and asked to rest for 10 minutes before being shown another series of photographs. Some photographs were the same as those shown in the first batch, some were similar, and some were completely different.

The participants were asked to identify any photographs they recognised from the first batch. They then took the test a second time with different images, only this time instead of resting for 10 minutes, they were asked to cycle gently on an exercise bike. All the while a functional MRI was being used to monitor their brain activity.

What did they find?

On average, the students identified matches more accurately after 10 minutes of cycling, compared to 10 minutes of rest.

More exciting to the scientists were the MRI scan results. These showed increased activity in a part of the brain called the dentate gyrus, located in the hippocampus (the area responsible for memory formation and spatial navigation).

Although it is still a matter of debate, some scientists theorise that the dentate gyrus is one of the few brain structures in which neurogenesis takes place (the birth of new brain cells). Some studies hypothesize that new memories preferentially use these newly formed cells to code a degree of similarity into events that occur closely in time. This is why we are able to differentiate between very similar memories (such as the photographs the participants were given).

What does this mean for us?

It means that even small bursts of exercise can benefit us, especially in the workplace where remembering details is often key to a strong performance.

Michael Yassa, one of the authors of the study and the director of UC Irvine's Yassa Translational Neurobiology Lab, said he applies his findings to his own life: "So now with my students, for example, I do walking meetings, where we kind of walk and talk."

For employers these findings should be eye-opening. A huge amount of money is spent each year in a bid to boost the productivity of our workforces. Could the answer be as simple as taking 10 minutes every few hours to go for a walk, or enjoy some gentle yoga poses?

What next?

Our advice is to find out more about the increasingly popular practice of active working, if you haven't already. It's all about how to create a more active, dynamic, healthy culture in your office (a place that is often dangerously sedentary).

Part of active working involves the use of sit-stand desks. These give workers the freedom to move between sitting and standing throughout the day. Standing up elevates the heart-rate and, as a recent UCL study found, using our Opløft Sit-Stand Platform can also significantly improve work performance, creativity and happiness.

Sit-stand desk users can boost their activity levels even more with the addition of a MoovRite Balance Board, which they can use sideways to pace (like walking), or rock backwards and forwards.

There are lots of ways to incorporate more activity into the workplace but the most important point of all is that staff know it's okay to move around. A ten minute walk during a concentration lull is infinitely better than forcing through it, or worse - pretending to work.