According to a recent, first-of-its-kind report, only 20 minutes of exercise is as good for our working memory as a coffee.
Researchers compared the effects of caffeine and exercise on working memory in a new study the appears in Nature Scientific Reports, and concluded that acute exercise can be as good for the mind as it is for the body.
How many of us are using caffeine in the morning to fire those little gray cells, or when we want to nail that deadline?
Caffeine is one of the “most commonly used psychoactive substances” in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
And, it’s real, having a daily caffeine fix can have a positive health impact. Studies have linked caffeine to everything that goes from long-term memory to disease prevention.
The side effects of caffeine
However nice as a cup of coffee tastes, there is no relief from the fact that caffeine is a psychoactive substance and that it comes with some side effects.
The side effects of caffeine consumption have been the impetus for a new study recently led by Harry Prapavessis— the director of the Laboratory for Exercise and Health Psychology at Western University in Ontario, Canada.
Prapavessis compared the effects of exercise and caffeine with the former graduate student Matthew Fagan and graduate student Anisa Morava.
To the best of the authors ‘ knowledge, they write, no earlier studies “have examined either cognition or caffeine withdrawal symptoms of acute exercise as compared to caffeine administration.”
Despite the positive we know about caffeine, the negative can often outweigh the benefits.
Anxiety-like symptoms, body tremors, and, eventually, withdrawal, all correlate with routine caffeine consumption.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that a normal intake of 4–5 cups of coffee is safe.
Some people, however, are more susceptible than others to caffeine and the following symptoms can indicate too much caffeine:
- a headache
- raised heart rate
- upset stomach
- muscle tremors
Why is it so hard to’ break up’ coffee
Withdrawal of coffeine can be an unexpected shock for anyone attempting to cut it down.
Most common symptoms are nausea, exhaustion, low energy, irritability, low mood, and a “foggy brain”
A study of research examining the withdrawal of caffeine showed that 50 percent of people reported headache that lasted for up to nine days after stopping consuming caffeine.
Withdrawal of caffeine can affect cognitive function, which may be of concern to anyone who uses caffeine to keep their brain ticking.
Maintaining brain warning without side effects
Recent research has suggested that mood and intellect are enhanced by just one exercise bout.
Countless other studies suggest that physical exercise, such as combating illness and extending life, will bring health benefits.
Instead of heading out of the door and walking, we sometimes reach for a cup.
This new study aimed at contrasting exercise and caffeine in terms of how effective they are in enhancing the working memory.
What is working memory?
Working memory is important to our ability to function as a curious human being. This helps the learning process and allows for the short-term storing of information, these as phone numbers or a shopping list.
The team used a n-back test to test this practical aspect of our reasoning, which resembles the pairs or snaps in card games. The goal of such games is to spot the repetition of items occurring in succession.
In Western analysis the researchers presented a list of things to the participants. As in the famous card game, any repeats of an object had to be found.
Prapavessis and his team tested whether the participants were able to spot repeated items back in the list up to three items.
The more items the participants were required to return to, the clearer it was how much information their working memory could store and keep ready for recall.
The team randomly assigned each participant to one of two classes to compare the effects of caffeine and exercise on the work memory.
In the first part of the study, both caffeine consumers and non-caffeine consumers had to undergo the n-back tasks before and after acute exercise and administration of caffeine.
The second part of the study dealt with the removal of caffeine. There, after 12 hours of coffeine deprivation, the caffeine drinkers took the same n-back measures.
Reasons why exercise is better than coffee
Study results showed a similar effect for both exercise and caffeine.
After spending 20 minutes on a treadmill and consuming one single serving of caffeine, the changes in the participants ‘ working memory were comparable.
That may seem like good news to people enjoying a daily triple espresso.
However, this study’s main takeaway is that exercise, with all its long-term benefits, can help improve the mood and concentration as much as caffeine can do.
These results are all the more important, considering the side effects of signs of withdrawal from caffeine and caffeine.
The study also brings some good news for coffee drinkers, finding that exercise can also help with symptoms of caffeine withdrawal should a person decide to cut back.
“As people experience withdrawal, some of the symptoms may be decreased by an immediate, brisk walk,” says the study co-author Anisa Morava.