Want a better attention span? Time to hit the gym

12 Apr
This image shows qne of the participants in the University of Granada study -- part of the high-level physical activity group. (Credit: University of Grenada)

This image shows qne of the participants in the University of Granada study — part of the high-level physical activity group. (Credit: University of Granada)

My morning run is just as important as my daily cup of coffee– without it I feel lethargic, inattentive and scatterbrained– and a new study may explain why.

Researchers from the University of Granada conducted an experiment consisting of 28 males between the ages of 17 and 29 and found that men who exercise regularly and are considered to be fit individuals, performed better cognitively compared to those who led a sedentary lifestyle.

The groups were divided into two. The first group consisted of men who showed a low level of physical fitness–by the American College of Sports Medicine standards. The other group included 11 members of the Andalusian Cycling Federation, along with three students of the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Activities of the University of Granada. Needless to say, the second group of men were considered to be physically fit.

After conducting a series of three tasks (a psychomotor vigilance task, a temporal orienting task, and a duration discrimination task) the results of the experiment showed that the men in the second group had a better sustained attention span, meaning they could focus on one task for a longer period of time, compared to the first group. The physically-fit men also had faster overall reaction times to external stimuli.

“It is important therefore to highlight that both the physiological and behavioral results obtained through our study suggest that the main benefit resulting from the good physical condition of the cyclists who participated in the study, appeared to be associated with the processes implicated by sustained attention,” Antonio Luque-Casado, the main author of the study, said.

Luque-Casado warned that this study is preliminary and further research will have to be done to confirm the results.

(I just hope the next study will incorporate women as well.)

But, just from personal experience I think these researchers are on the right track: perhaps we’re only scratching the surface of cognitive benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle.



Luque-Casado A, Zabala M, Morales E, Mateo-March M, Sanabria D (2013) Cognitive Performance and Heart Rate Variability: The Influence of Fitness Level. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056935

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