There are times when we need to have all our brain cells working at their very best to help us make the right decision, or solve a difficult problem, or do well on a test or examination.

But, as we all know, our minds sometimes seem to have a life of their own—underperforming when we need the most from them, or simply not having it all together at the right place and time.

For those of us who want to get the most out of our brains, there’s good news. Researchers at Western University in London, Canada, discovered that a particular kind of exercise—done for just 10 minutes—can give you the mental kickstart you’re looking for.

The researchers had two sets of test subjects. The first group read a magazine while sitting in a chair for 10 minutes. The second group pedaled on an exercise bike for 10 minutes—maintaining a moderate to vigorous aerobic level of effort.

According to study coauthor Matthew Heath, an associate member of Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute, “Those who had exercised showed immediate improvement. Their responses were more accurate and their reaction times were up to 50 milliseconds shorter than their pre-exercise values. That may seem minuscule, but it represented a 14 percent gain in cognitive performance in some instances.”

What was particularly exciting to the researchers is that it only takes 10 minutes of aerobic exercise to make a difference in mental performance. Previous studies had indicated that at least 20 minutes of exercise and a long-term (24-week) commitment was required to move the needle. Not so.

According to master’s student Ashna Samani, who helped conduct the study, “This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits.”

So, the next time you need every brain cell performing at its very best, set aside 10 minutes for some quick aerobic exercise—most anyone can step outside the office for a quick walk—and immediately boost your brain power.

Adapted from Peter Economy article on