Study finds brief bursts of exercise may make you smarter

Though longer duration exercise has been found to offer a number of health benefits, a new study indicates that brief bursts of activity may come with its own positive effects. According to a study out of Oregon Health and Science University, researchers found that a short burst of exercise increased the function of a gene that boosts neuron connections in the part of the brain linked to memory and learning.

The study involved sedentary mice and set out to specifically uncover the effects exercise may have on the brain. As part of the work, these sedentary mice were put in running wheels, where they ran a few kilometers in brief bouts over the course of two hours. These short bursts of exercise were found to activate a gene called Mtss1L.

When activated, the Mtss1L gene resulted in the growth of dendritic spines — small growths on neurons where synapses form. This change was observed in the brain's hippocampus, the region linked with memory and learning new information, indicating that brief exercise before a study session may prove beneficial for students and anyone looking to master a new skill.

According to the researchers, brief exercise, in this case, could be translated to around 4,000 steps taken by a human — the equivalent of a walk around the block, for example — or a simple game of street basketball. Regardless of the type of activity, it appears 'acute' exercise is key.

Of course, it's important to note that the study took place on mice, not humans. According to an announcement from the university, the researchers plan to conduct future studies on spurts of activity paired with learning tasks, helping shed light on the relationship this type of exercise may have with one's ability to learn and remember new things.