Exercise can boost performance in inactive sports, such as chess

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After four months, the study found their minds were “significantly sharpened”, and they were able to perform at a higher level than before.

The gamers’ cognitive function was boosted, on average, by 10 percent, with short-term memory improving by 12 percent, processing speed and alertness by 10 percent, and problem-solving abilities seeing a nine percent boost.

The study’s head coach, Andrew Kastor, who developed the gamers’ training programmes for the experiment, which was commissioned by sports brand ASICS, said: “These results are astonishing, and speak to the power of exercise.

“Many of the gamers couldn’t jog for longer than a minute at the start of the study, so their training programmes had to be moderate.

“One hundred and fifty minutes a week sounds a lot, but when you break it down this could be five sets of 30 minutes.

“No matter your fitness levels, the mental benefits of exercise are accessible to all.”

The programme saw the participants go from doing less than 30 minutes of exercise a week to 150 minutes, made up of moderate cardio and strength training.

The impact of the programme on their mind was then measured through a series of computerised cognitive tests and mental assessments designed to examine their processing speed, alertness, planning abilities, concentration levels, and short-term memory, at the start and end of the experiment.

Participants’ international gaming rankings improved by 75 percent, while the mind gamers’ group confidence levels increased by 44 percent.

Concentration improved by 33 percent, and anxiety levels plummeted by 43 percent.

As well as showing that exercise improved the participants’ cognitive function and gaming capabilities, it also revealed an uplift in the gamers’ mental wellbeing, with average “State of Mind” scores improving by 31 percent.

Before the study began, the average score was below 58, but this rose to 76 at the end.

Professor Brendon Stubbs, who also worked on the study, said: “Exercise stimulates cell growth in the brain and rapidly increases blood flow to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex – mechanisms that enable us to better retain memories, process information, and problem solve quickly.

“If exercise can significantly increase the mental performance of professional mind gamers, imagine what it could do for the rest of us.

“From increasing focus when revising for an exam, or improving alertness before a work presentation, exercise truly can enhance brain power.”

Inspired by the experiment, a camera crew followed four competitive gamers as they took on regular exercise to improve their rankings on the international stage.

The result was a new documentary, “Mind Games – The Experiment”, narrated by actor and mental health campaigner Stephen Fry.

Available to stream on Prime Video, it follows Kassa Korley, Ryoei Hirano, Ben Pridmore, and Sherry Nhan – who specialise in Chess, Mahjong, Memory, and Esports – as they compete in professional tournaments around the world.

Gary Raucher, EVP, ASICS EMEA, said: “We have always encouraged utilising exercise for both physical and mental benefits, but this is the first time we have explored the true impact on cognitive functioning.

“Mind Games – The Experiment shows the power of exercise to sharpen the mind, and we hope that after watching the documentary, everyone (regardless of their age, body type, or fitness level) is inspired to move to help boost their brain.”

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