The Workout That Might Make You Smarter

While very few exercises are simultaneously aerobic and relaxing, even fewer focus your mind well enough to improve your math skills. Even if such an exercise were to exist, it would probably be extremely time-consuming, right? Not necessarily. Recent research suggests that twenty-minute workout sessions that combine yoga and tai chi can increase your heart rate, reduce your anxiety, and sharpen your math skills.

Such were the findings of a 2010 study in which 38 adults participated in a twenty-minute workout session that include ten minutes of tai chi movement and ten minutes of sitting, standing, and lying down yoga poses. The researchers measured the heart rate, brain wave activity, self-reported anxiety index, and math computation skills of each participant before and after the workout session. The results showed that the participants experienced a moderate increase in their heart rates and the theta activity in their brains. Furthermore, the participants reported reduced anxiety and solved basic math problems with increased speed and accuracy after the workout.

The researchers acknowledged that previous research had established that extended Yoga and tai chi workouts increase alpha and beta activity in the brain, suggesting relaxation and increased focus. These studies also measured the increases in heart-rate achieved through yoga and tai chi, demonstrating that they are aerobic exercises of moderate intensity. However, the scientists felt these earlier studies were of limited value because they involved impractically long workout sessions and only included the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga, omitting the posing aspect. Limitations to this study include using only self-reported levels of relaxation and failing to distinguish the results from yoga or tai chi from one another, instead lumping the two activities together.

The results of the present study indicate that you can reap desirable and seemingly contradictory benefits from a mixed yoga/tai chi workout of only twenty minutes. Specifically, these twenty minute workouts can:

  • Improve your cardiovascular health. The increases in heart rate showed that a combined yoga/tai chi workout is of moderate aerobic intensity. Aerobic exercise promotes cardiovascular health.
  • Reduce your stress. The trend toward increased theta activity in the brain suggests relaxation in the study’s participants. The reduction in self-reported anxiety after the workouts reinforces the notion of relaxation and a sense of well-being.
  • Improve your focus and mental clarity. The majority of participants in the study performed better on basic math skills after the workout. This seems to indicate that their relaxed minds were better able to focus on and efficiently deal with the challenges set before them.

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1 Comment

  • Great post.

    Although Yoga and Tai chi have similar goals: relaxation and stress relief, there is still a big difference between Yoga and Tai Chi.

    Tai chi is not just for relaxation, it’s a Martial Arts. Can be used for real fighting.
    Yes, one of the basic principles is to relax. Relax and wait for the opponent to attack you. Absorb the offense and divert it back to the opponent.
    Very important fact is: Tai chi is a martial arts.

    Most people don’t know that.

    It’s hard to find a good tai chi master that knows the real principle of Tai Chi.
    Unfortunately, nowadays there so many so called Tai Chi master, who doesn’t know how to apply the Tai Chi techniques.

    Many Tai chi masters don’t know this. That’s very sad.

    I have been practicing Tai Chi for more than 10 years, including Yang and Chen Tai Chi.
    Out of 50 teachers, only 2 that I’ve found know how to apply Tai Chi for self defense.

    Here is an interesting article about Tai Chi as an Martial Arts:

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