Doing some squats during commercial breaks or between YouTube videos can help couch potatoes keep their minds sharp, a new study suggests.

Young volunteers who did short sets of squat exercises every now and then while relaxing performed better in brain games than when they simply sat around for hours, researchers report.

Short bursts of exercise might help the brains of people who spend long periods on the couch or behind a desk, the study concluded.

“Our half-squat intervention may be able to be used by individuals seeking to break up their sedentary behavior in an effort to preserve cognition during times, such as in the workplace,” the researchers wrote.

For the study, a group of young adult volunteers participated in two scenarios: sitting without interruption for three hours; or sitting for three hours but performing a minute of half-squats every 20 minutes.

In both settings, the researchers measured volunteers’ blood pressure, blood flow through the carotid artery — which accounts for 75% of total blood flow to the brain — and heart rate after 10 minutes, one hour, two hours and three hours. At the end of each trial, the volunteers completed three thinking tests.

In one test, participants were asked to quickly identify if a word they were shown – “red,” “blue,” “yellow,” “green” or “black” – was printed in the same color ink described by the written word.

When they exercised, volunteers responded more quickly to both the words that didn’t match the color as well as the matching word/color combinations, researchers report.

Performing squats also helped volunteers completed a trail-making test more quickly.

Further, when fully sedentary for three hours, larger increases in mental fatigue and more significant decreases in concentration were seen.

Measurements showed that blood flow to the brain decreased by about 4% when volunteers were sedentary, while when exercising they had a slight increase in blood flow to the brain.

The new study was published recently in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about exercise and brain health.

SOURCE: American Physiological Society, news release, Nov. 29, 2023