I've found that 30 seconds of high-intensity body-weight exercise gives me the same mental boost as a shot of caffeine. After validating the results of my newfound productivity hack on a Stanford-designed test of cognitive performance, these short breaks have become a staple of my workday.
Here's how it works, how I measured it, and some scientific theory to back up the findings.
How It Works
Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I find a quiet corner and perform some form of body-weight exercise that jolts my heart up to at last 70 percent of the maximal beats per minute (for me, that's about 170). My favorite exercises are 20 burpees (a push-up to jumping jack) or 40 mountain climbers (push-up position, bringing knees to elbows).
Thirty seconds is a rough time frame; I actually go until I'm physically exhausted and feel my heart pounding through my chest. That's it.
How It's Measured
With the rise of scientific self-experimentation (a.k.a the "quantified self movement"), academics have designed measurement tools for committed amateurs. I compared my cognitive performance on caffeine and after exercise with quantified-mind.com, a website of reaction time and memory tests, which have been validated by decades of psychological research.
For instance, one test displays a series of nonsense symbols, each housed in a box labeled 1-9. When a larger version of the symbol displayed, I hit the corresponding number as quickly as possible. Mistakes count against the final score. Essentially, these types of games test if users are paying attention and if they can think on their feet (i.e. if I've got brain fog).
I compared my performance on this test to 250mg of caffeine. As seen from the graph below, my overall score increase 12 percent after exercise, compared to 6 percent on caffeine.
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