Studies have already shown that following a long-term exercise regimen has a beneficial effect on one's brain – no surprise there. A new study conducted at Canada's Western University, however, indicates that even just 10 minutes of aerobic activity temporarily makes us better at problem-solving, and improves our mental focus.

The study was conducted by Prof. Matthew Heath and master's student Ashna Samani.

They got healthy young test subjects to either sit and read a magazine for 10 minutes, or perform moderate-to-vigorous exercise on a stationary bike. Before and after the reading/exercise sessions, the scientists used eye-tracking equipment to assess each person's reaction times to a cognitively-demanding eye movement task. That task drew upon parts of the brain responsible for functions such as decision-making.

"Those who had exercised showed immediate improvement," says Heath. "Their responses were more accurate and their reaction times were up to 50 milliseconds shorter than their pre-exercise values. That may seem minuscule, but it represented a 14-percent gain in cognitive performance in some instances."

He is now studying how long the mental boost lasts, and suggests that short bouts of exercise could be beneficial both to seniors in the early stages of dementia, or to anyone "looking to gain a quick mental edge."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.