If you wanted to make sure your mind was in the best position, what do you think would give you the best preparation: 15 minutes of calm relaxation or a 15-minute jog?
A study in which 101 undergraduate students participated suggests that it would be better if you liked the second.
Evidence had already accumulated that moderate and relatively brief aerobic exercise, such as going for a walk or jog, has immediate benefits for mental functioning, especially speed and control of attention. A parallel literature has also documented how brief aerobic exercise has beneficial effects on your mood, including the fact that you feel more energetic, even when you do not expect it. In their new article in Psychological Act, Fabian Legrand and his colleagues overcame these findings by seeing if the emotional effects of exercise could be, at least in part, responsible for the cognitive benefits.
They asked their participants to rate how energetic and vigorous they felt and then to complete two cognitive tests (versions of the Trail Creation Test, which involves drawing lines between numbers and letters as quickly and accurately as possible).
Then, they assigned half of their participating students to go out as a group for 15 minutes and to the others to spend the same time after the group relaxation exercises. Finally, two minutes after the jogging session, the students answered the same questions as before about their feelings of energy and then repeated the cognitive tests.
The students who went out to run, but not the students of relaxation, later showed a significant improvement in the version of Trail Making Test that measures mental speed and attentional control (but not the other that uses memory and cognitive change). Furthermore, this improvement in cognition was completely mediated by his greater feelings of energy and vigor, which implied, although he did not prove conclusively, that jog increased cognition through its effects in its subjective sense of having more energy ( in contrast, the relaxation group really felt dramatically less energetic).
Among the limitations of the study was the fact that the relaxation session took place inside, while the jogging was outside. Despite this problem and some others, and recognizing the need for more research, Legrand and his team said their findings “add weight to recent suggestions that a greater sense of energy may mediate the relationship between aerobic exercise and some aspects of cognitive functioning “.