Have you ever been struck with brain fog, then gone for a run that left you feeling completely refreshed and clear-headed? That’s not just because of the rush of endorphins. Certain exercises improve concentration and memory, and you only need two minutes of movement to reap the benefits.
According to a recent meta-analysis of 13 different studies done on brain activity post-exercise, aerobic activity can actually boost memory, focus, and problem-solving skills. The research was conducted on young adults between the ages of 18 to 35, though Peter Blomdstrand, MD, a physiologist who led the review, believes that these benefits are “very likely” to apply to children and older adults as well. “[Exercise] improves cognition, learning, and mental health,” he says. “It makes us happier and more focused.”
The studies looked at the effects of three staple cardio modalities—biking, walking, and running—and found that brain-boosting perks come from aerobic activity (meaning you won’t be able to fight brain fog in quite the same way with slower, strength-based activities like barre, Pilates, or yoga). Although more research is needed in order to understand all of the links between brain activity and cardio exercise, experts involved in the analysis believe that the benefits are partly because dopamine receptors are activated during exercise, and dopamine is known to play a big role in cognitive function and learning. Getting your heart rate up and working up a sweat also improves your circulation, too, and the surge of more blood and oxygen in your brain can boost your thinking.
All you need is two minutes of cardio to get a quick concentration pick-me-up. The studies found that just a couple of minutes of aerobic exercise improved brain function, which means squeezing in a mini-workout between meetings is all you need to do to snap back into focus. Short sweat sessions, for the win.
If you’re not the biggest fan of cycling or running, it’s very likely that you can get the same cognition-friendly effects from any sort of cardio exercise, which means that you can turn to your fave way to spike your heart rate to get the job done. Keep scrolling for some aerobic-based workouts—from HIIT to jump rope to dance cardio—that you can do at home whenever you need a re-up in your brainpower.
Exercises to improve concentration and memory
1. 15-minute runner’s treadmill HIIT workout
For a quick but challenging burst of running, hop on the treadmill (or go outside) to work through intervals that’ll leave you drenched in sweat.
2. 25-minute low-impact cardio workout
If you’re looking for something low-impact, this quickie cardio sesh gets your heart pumping without being tough on your joints.
3. 8-minute beginner dance cardio
Clear that brain fog by dancing it out in this under 10-minute dance cardio workout courtesy of trainer Amanda Kloots.
4. 10-minute EMOM ladder cardio workout
EMOM stands for every minute on the minute, which is a workout technique that’s big in CrossFit and gets your heart rate up real quick.
5. 15-minute low-impact HIIT workout
Your HIIT workouts don’t have to be high-impact—this low-impact version is just as hard as those that involve more jumping and heavy weights.
6. 20-minute low-impact cardio rebounder workout
To try a different type of cardio-based workout, grab a mini trampoline and jump it out.
7. 10-minute beginner boxing workout
Throw some jabs and crosses in this beginner-level boxing workout that’ll leave you feeling refreshed and more badass once you’re done.
8. 12-minute jump rope workout
All it takes is a few minutes of jumping rope to get a burst of aerobic exercise that’ll do your brain some good.
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