Pop quiz: What do climbing trees, walking on a balance beam, running barefoot, and navigating over, under and around obstacles have in common? Answer: They all boost working memory capacity. And not just by a little, either. The results are pretty stunning: Doing these activities for just an hour or two can increase memory by a jaw-dropping 50 percent. And no, it doesn’t require Olympic levels of mastery. Just doing it — no matter how clumsy you are — is enough to reap the cognitive rewards.
The findings are from a Department of Psychology study at the University of North Florida and reveal how proprioception (the awareness of body positioning and orientation) directly impacts working memory. It’s particularly interesting because it draws links between a hyper-specific set of physical challenges, as compared to most research, which merely links the benefits of all cardiovascular exercise to combat memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
And here’s the kicker: A control group in the University of North Florida test did yoga for the same amount of time that the others performed the tree-climbing challenges. The results? Downward dog had virtually no impact on working memory. So next time your kids have to prep for a test, forget the gym and start climbing those trees!