As if anyone in run specialty needed another reason to convince their customers to keep moving, a recent study commissioned by ASICS shows once and for all that exercise significantly improves cognitive function and mental performance. One other way to look at it: Runners are smarter than most people!
Here’s how ASICS figured that out: Their researchers reached out to competitive gamers from around the world who specialize in mind games, including chess and esports, and who rely on their cognitive function, to start an exercise program. They had them exercise for four months and then basically found out that their minds had significantly sharpened and they performed at a higher competitive level. Here are some facts and figures to back that up:
• The data shows that participants’ international gaming rankings improved by 75 percent, “proving close interplay between our mind and body.”
• The mind gamers’ cognitive function was increased on average by 10 percent, with problem-solving abilities improving by nine percent, short-term memory increasing by 12 percent, and processing speed and alertness improving by 10 percent.
• Group confidence levels increased by 44 percent, concentration improved by 33 percent and anxiety levels dropped by 43 percent.
• The data showed that exercise could be as effective at boosting brain function as learning a second language, reading daily, playing a new musical instrument or completing a puzzle every day.
Each gamer followed a training program designed by runner-turned-international coach Andrew Kastor. The program included medium-impact cardio and strength training and increased the gamer’s exercise levels to 150 minutes a week. The study then measured the mental improvement of the participants based on their performance in their mind games, cognitive tests and well-being questionnaires over the course of their four-month research period.
“We all know that exercise is good for our mental and physical health, but the impact on cognitive functioning has been less explored,” says Professor Brendon Stubbs, a researcher in movement and the mind who developed and led the experiment. “We wanted to examine the effects of exercise on people who depend on their cognitive abilities — competitive mind gamers. Our results showed significant improvements in their cognitive functioning, including concentration levels and problem-solving abilities.
“Exercise stimulates cell growth in the brain and rapidly increases blood flow to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, mechanisms that enable us to better retain memories, process information and problem solve quickly,” he explains. “If exercise can significantly increase the mental performance of professional mind gamers, imagine what it could do for the rest of us. From increasing focus when revising for an exam or improving alertness before a work presentation, exercise truly can enhance brain power.”
“These results are astonishing and speak to the power of exercise,” adds Kastor, who developed the gamers’ training program. “Many of the gamers couldn’t jog for longer than a minute at the start of the study, so their training program had to be moderate. One-hundred-fifty minutes a week sounds a lot, but when you break it down, this could be five sets of 30 minutes. No matter your fitness levels, the mental benefits of exercise are accessible to all.”
Inspired by the experiment, a camera crew followed four competitive gamers as they exercised regularly to improve their rankings on the international stage, resulting in the documentary “Mind Games—The Experiment,” narrated by the actor and mental health campaigner Stephen Fry.
Streaming on Prime Video, the feature-length film documents the journeys of four gamers, including Kassa Korley, Ryoei Hirano, Ben Pridmore, and Sherry Nhan, who play chess, mahjong, memory and esports as they compete in professional tournaments worldwide.