Climbing a tree can dramatically improve cognitive skills, according to a study recently conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of North Florida.
The study is the first to show that dynamic activities like climbing a tree, done over a short period of time, have dramatic working memory benefits.
Working memory (the ability to process and recall information), is linked to performance in a wide variety of contexts from grades to sports. Proprioception (awareness of body positioning and orientation) is also associated with working memory.
In the study, such activities included climbing trees, walking and crawling on a beam approximately 3 inches wide, moving while paying attention to posture, running barefoot, navigating over, under and around obstacles. After two hours, participants were tested again, and researchers found that their working memory capacity had increased by 50 percent, a dramatic improvement.
The researchers also tested two control groups. The first was a college class learning new information . The second was a yoga class. However, neither control group experienced working memory benefits.
Proprioceptively dynamic training may place a greater demand on working memory than either control condition because as environment and terrain changes, the individual recruits working memory to update information to adapt appropriately. Though the yoga control group engaged in proprioceptive activities that required awareness of body position, it was relatively static as they performed the yoga postures in a small space, which didn’t allow for locomotion or navigation.
“This research suggests that by doing activities that make us think, we can exercise our brains as well as our bodies,” said Alloway. “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.”