Want Your Boss to Think You’re Smarter? Break a Sweat in the Morning

New research suggests a morning workout can set you up for a better day at the office.

There are lots of good reasons to bust out an early bird workout: It wakes you up, there are fewer disruptions, and you sleep better at night. Now you can add something else to the list: It could help you slay your day job and impress your boss.

New research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that morning exercise helps your brain work better all day, even if you are forced to sit for the rest of it.

The “Brain Breaks” study, led by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and The University of Western Australia, examined how exercise timing affected the cognitive performance among 65 healthy, older adults ages 55 to 80.

The researchers divided the volunteers into three groups. One group sat like potted plants with no exercise at all for 8 hours a day. Another sat for an hour, and then went off to exercise for 30 minutes, before sitting again for 6.5 hours straight. The third group sat for an hour, exercised for 30 minutes, and then got up every 30 minutes throughout the day to walk around for 3 minutes.

To see how the exercise or lack thereof affected the participants’ brain function, the researchers gave them a series of cognitive performance tests and measured their levels of serum brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a key role in the survival and growth of brain cells, at several points throughout the day.

Turns out, even short morning exercise session had profound results. Everyone who moved in the morning performed better in tests of executive function—which includes things like decision making, paying attention, and organising, planning, and prioritising—than their completely sedentary peers.

And those who broke up their sitting time with walking breaks seemed to get bonus brain boosts, outperforming the other two groups in memory tests.

Both a.m. exercise groups also saw their levels of BDNF rise and remain elevated for the full 8-hour day, while their chair-bound counterparts actually saw their levels decline.

“This study highlights how relatively simple changes to your daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive health,” said study author Michael Wheeler, Ph.D. (c). in a press release. “It also reveals that one day we may be able to do specific types of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or learning.”

Though Wheeler says specific research is needed to see how these exercise strategies affect younger adults, he told Bicycling he suspects they would benefit as well.

“While these particular results pertain to older adults 55 to 80, it gives us reason to suspect that for those younger than 55, there may be also be a combined effect of exercise plus prolonged sitting/breaks in prolonged sitting on cognition,” he said.

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