Climbing a tree can improve working memory by 50%, a new study finds.
The same is true of other dynamic activities like balancing on a beam, carrying awkward weights and navigating around obstacles.
Dr Tracy Alloway, one of the study’s authors, said:
“Improving working memory can have a beneficial effect on so many areas in our life, and it’s exciting to see that proprioceptive activities can enhance it in such a short period of time.”
Proprioception is the brain’s awareness of the body’s position in space.
It allows us to know where our body is without looking.
The research compared activities like the tree climbing with two control groups:
- One group were given a lecture to see if new information would also spark increases in working memory.
- A second group did yoga which, while beneficial in many ways, is static compared to climbing a tree.
However, neither group saw the dramatic benefits to working memory that resulted from climbing trees.
The researchers think that activities like climbing trees are effective because memory is forced to work harder.
As the terrain and environment change while climbing a tree, the brain has to continually update its model of the world.
Yoga, meanwhile, probably does not involve enough changes to the environment and terrain to boost memory.
Dr Ross Alloway, the study’s first author, said:
“This research suggests that by doing activities that make us think, we can exercise our brains as well as our bodies.
This research has wide-ranging implications for everyone from kids to adults.
By taking a break to do activities that are unpredictable and require us to consciously adapt our movements, we can boost our working memory to perform better in the classroom and the boardroom.”
The research was published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills (Alloway & Alloway, 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Brain image from Shutterstock