Exercise and cognition: it only takes a little bit!

Exercise and cognition: it only takes a little bit!

The concept of exercise and its effect on the mind is not a new one – in fact, it’s at the least 2085 years old! Tullius Cicero stated in 65BC “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor”. (McCrory, 2007) While research is not always conclusive, it is safe to say there are plenty of studies that do support this assertion.

An increase in physical activity of only 10% has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease significantly. (Koščak Tivadar, 2017) And for kids, an acute bout of walking has a beneficial effect on reading comprehension. (Hillman et al., 2009)

What type of exercise?

We are not entirely certain – but here are some good examples.

For the kids improving reading comprehension required 20 minutes of walking at 60% of estimated maximum heart rate. (Hillman et al., 2009) For older adults, the experts suggest a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise. (Koščak Tivadar, 2017)

But why would exercise help the brain?

We think it’s related to cardiovascular fitness – but this is not exactly clear.(Hillman et al., 2009) Humans evolved as physically active beings and it may be that an absence of exercise interrupts well-established functions within the brain. Here are some of the explanations we have so far:

  • Exercise increases brain levels of dopamine. We need dopamine for the proper functioning of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
  • Indirect effects of exercise such as a reduction in chronic stress, oxidation and inflammation can reduce detrimental effects on the brain

While it only takes a little bit, guidance is important.

It is not enough to simply say, “you need to start exercising.” Brief advice from a doctor does not have a demonstrable effect on sustained levels of physical activity. (Lawlor & Hanratty, 2001) Positive interactions with a knowledgeable health care professional could make a difference – each individual has their own barriers to exercise participation and it takes skill and great communication skills to break these down.

That’s where you step in!


Hillman, C. H., Pontifex, M. B., Raine, L. B., Castelli, D. M., Hall, E. E., & Kramer, A. F. (2009). The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.01.057

Koščak Tivadar, B. (2017). Physical activity improves cognition: possible explanations. Biogerontology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-017-9708-6

Lawlor, D. A., & Hanratty, B. (2001). The effect of physical activity advice given in routine primary care consultations: A systematic review. Journal of Public Health Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/23.3.219

McCrory, P. (2007). Cheap solutions for big problems? British Journal of Sports Medicine.







For best results make exercise fun.

For best results make exercise fun.

It’s September and you’ve miraculously stuck to your new year’s resolution – going to the gym three times per week. Admittedly, it can be a drag to get there but you are making great progress with your speed and distance on the treadmill. Yet the weight isn’t falling off. Why?

In the meantime, Sally is loving her new hobby, bushwalking, three times per week. Even though she gets puffed trekking up the hills she barely notices. She’s too busy gossiping and laughing with her friend Julie. She’s even losing weight – bonus!

So what is the story here?

Hedonic snacking: snacking on foods that are consumed mainly for pleasure rather than being a necessity.

Turns out when physical activity is perceived as fun people are likely to consume less dessert or be tempted by hedonic snacking. (Werle, Wansink, & Payne, 2015) In other words, if you are focusing on the effort you have made to exercise you may feel entitled to reward yourself in some other way afterwards. This is human nature at work – a tendency to “compensate previous efforts through hedonic consumption.” (Werle et al., 2015) Even reading about exercise could lead to increased food consumption! (Werle, Wansink, & Payne, 2011)

So, how do you make someone perceive exercise as fun? In their study, Werle et al. told their subjects that the purpose of the 30-minute walk was to do something fun as well as allowing them to listen to music. Having others around when you exercise also boosts the enjoyment. As Reis et al. put it, fun is more fun when others are involved. (Reis, O’Keefe, & Lane, 2017) The language you use can also make a difference. Try not to mention the effort the person is putting in during the exercise. Distract them by discussing enjoyable topics or pointing things out in the environment. Or, if you are working on specific exercises, assist with cues and ideal technique or focus on the pleasant elements of the exercise such as relaxed breathing, the lovely feeling of a stretch or, how energised they will feel once they finish the session. And finally, avoid any post-workout rituals that involve cafes and cakes!

Have fun!

Reis, H. T., O’Keefe, S. D., & Lane, R. D. (2017). Fun is more fun when others are involved. Journal of Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1221123

Werle, C. O. C., Wansink, B., & Payne, C. R. (2011). Just thinking about exercise makes me serve more food. Physical activity and calorie compensation. Appetite. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.12.016

Werle, C. O. C., Wansink, B., & Payne, C. R. (2015). Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking. Marketing Letters. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-014-9301-6

What happens when you work from home – for better or worse?

What happens when you work from home – for better or worse?

I’m betting if you’re reading this you are either working from home or anticipating another stint at home. So how is it going? Here is what you might be finding:

Decreased productivity

For some activities you may notice a reduction in productivity. Faced with a dull or boring work task, say, data entry? All of a sudden doing the dishes seems like a really fun thing to do! That will reduce your productivity by about 6-10 percent.1

Increased productivity

Conversely, when given a creative, enjoyable task your productivity increases – by 11-20 percent. Creative tasks involve asking questions of curiosity and finding new and innovative solutions to problems – very rewarding. In fact, when you achieve that ‘aha’ moment the hub of the brain’s reward system, the nucleus accumbens, lights up. This is part of a network activated when we experience a pleasure or reward.2


To maintain productivity you may want to create a couple of rules for yourself. For instance:

  • Break up your day alternating creative and mundane tasks
  • If you are not allowed to use the internet for purposes other than work when you are in the office, apply the same logic to working from home.3
  • Set definitive work hours for yourself and close the kitchen door – you can do the dishes later!
  • Go for a walk – walking has a large effect on creativity, by about 60%4

So stay safe while working from home and keep moving.

  1. Glenn Dutcher E. The effects of telecommuting on productivity: An experimental examination. The role of dull and creative tasks. J Econ Behav Organ. 2012;84(1):355-363. doi:10.1016/J.JEBO.2012.04.009
  2. Tik M, Sladky R, Luft CDB, et al. Ultra-high-field fMRI insights on insight: Neural correlates of the Aha!-moment. Hum Brain Mapp. 2018;39(8):3241-3252. doi:10.1002/hbm.24073
  3. Young J, Makineni S, Iyer R, Newell D, Moga A. To Snoop or Not to Snoop: Evaluation of Fine-Grain and Coarse-Grain Snoop Filtering Techniques. In: Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg; 2008:141-150. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-85451-7_16
  4. Oppezzo M, Schwartz DL. Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. 2014. doi:10.1037/a0036577

New module released – Intermediate exercises for the scapula

We incorporate functional exercises into many of our exercise prescriptions due to our growing understanding of the associated neuroplastic changes that can occur in the cortex. Kleim et al. explain: “motor learning-dependent changes in movement representations have been demonstrated in human, monkey and rodent motor cortex. The reorganisation is characterised by both an areal expansion and an increase in the number of representations corresponding to trained movements. The changes are also learning specific.”

Kleim J a, Hogg TM, VandenBerg PM, Cooper NR, Bruneau R, Remple M. Cortical synaptogenesis and motor map reorganization occur during late, but not early, phase of motor skill learning. J Neurosci. 2004;24(3):628-633.

Find out more in our new module – Intermediate exercises for the scapula

Lateral epicondylalgia – it’s not all about eccentric exercise

While eccentric exercise is certainly the most investigated approach to this condition there are other options to consider, especially when it comes to pain relief. As Martinez-Silvestrini et al. explain: “… Lateral [epicondylalgia] is often related to forceful grip activities requiring isometric contraction of the wrist flexors and extensors.”1 Isometric contractions have been shown to induce short-term analgesia in patella tendinopathy – so applying this to the elbow may be just as valuable. And that’s not the only pain-relieving exercise available.

Want to find out more?
 Become an EFE Registered Provider and download the new exercise prescriptions and practitioner notes:

-Exercises for lateral epicondylalgia

-Exercises for lateral epicondylalgia (progressive series)

1. Martinez-Silvestrini JA, Newcomer KL, Gay RE, Schaefer MP, Kortebein P, Arendt KW. Chronic lateral epicondylitis: Comparative effectiveness of a home exercise program including stretching alone versus stretching supplemented with eccentric or concentric strengthening. J Hand Ther. 2005;18(4):411-420. doi:10.1197/j.jht.2005.07.007.

PDP’s now available for Myotherapy Association Australia

Online PDP modules are now available for Myotherapy Association Australia. See our approved PDP’s here!


Plantar fasciitis – inflammatory or degenerative condition?

McMillan et al.88 report: “The histological features of plantar fasciitis are poorly understood, although studies report a predominance of degenerative changes at the plantar fascia enthesis … The presence of biochemical markers of inflammation such as cytokines and prostaglandins have not been well investigated, although, several studies report non-specific evidence of local inflammatory change.”

Interestingly, specific, direct evidence of inflammation has rarely been detected histologically in chronic plantar fasciitis.89 Lemont et al. argue it is a degenerative condition without inflammation.20 While many researchers and clinicians allude to the presence of inflammation they do not provide definitive histological evidence.

Lemont et al. point out that “when photomicrographs are provided, they are often mislabelled as showing inflammation … they provided only photomicrographs of dense fibrous tissue.” Grasel et al.’s study using magnetic resonance imaging indicated the changes were non-inflammatory due to the low prevalence of signal intensity within the fascia and what they did find was likely oedema due to fascial tears and occult marrow abnormalities.90

20. Lemont H, Ammirati KM, Usen N. Plantar fasciitis: A degenerative process (Fasciosis) without inflammation. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2003;93(1-6):234-237.

88. McMillan AM, Landorf KB, Gilheany MF, Bird AR, Morrow AD, Menz HB. Ultrasound guided corticosteroid injection
for plantar fasciitis: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2012;344(21):e3260.

89. Wearing SC, Smeathers JE, Urry SR, Hennig EM, Hills AP. The pathomechanics of plantar fasciitis. Sport Med. 2006;36(7):585-611.

90. Grasel RP, Schweitzer ME, Kovalovich AM, et al. Original report. MR imaging of plantar fasciitis: Edema, tears, and occult marrow abnormalities correlated with outcome. Am J Roentgenol. 1999;173(3):699-701.

A new Plantar Fasciitis exercise prescription and practitioner notes have been added to the Evidence for Exercise Registered Provider package.

CEU’s now available for Athletics & Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Online CEU modules are now available for fitness professionals in the USA!

Athletics & Fitness Association of America (AFAA) CEU Accredited
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) CEU Accredited

See our approved online CEU modules here.

CE modules now available for Chiropractors in New York State, Georgia and Pennsylvania

Online CE modules are now available for Chiropractors in New York State, Georgia and Pennsylvania!

New York State Board of Chiropractic Accredited
Georgia Board of Chiropractic Examiners Accredited
Pennsylvania State Board of Chiropractic Accredited

See our approved online Chiropractic Continuing Education here.

Season’s Greetings!

From all of us here at Evidence for Exercise…we give you permission NOT to exercise on Christmas day!

And we wish you a safe and happy Christmas and a wonderful start to the New Year…when we expect you to get straight back into it :)