Runners who want to boost their brain function should consider taking their running shoes off, new research suggests.
The study found that after running barefoot, participants saw improvements in working memory, or the ability to recall or process information. Running in shoes, however, didn’t result in the same advantage, researchers said.
“The little things often have the greatest impact. This research shows us that we can realize our cognitive potential and enjoy ourselves at the same time,” said study leader Ross Alloway in a University of North Florida (UNF) news release.
“If we take off our shoes and go for a run, we can finish smarter than when we started,” added Alloway, a researcher in the university’s department of psychology.
For the study, the researchers instructed 72 volunteers to run barefoot and with shoes at their own pace for about 16 minutes. The volunteers were between 18 and 44 years old.
In order to simulate running outside, the participants had to step on flat objects with and without shoes.
The researchers noted that while running barefoot, people must pay more attention to their foot placement to avoid stepping on objects that could hurt their feet.
Before and after the runs, the researchers tested the participants’ working memory.
They found a roughly 16 percent increase in working memory performance following the barefoot runs. The same benefit was not seen after the participants ran in shoes, according to the study, published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills.
The study authors suggested running barefoot requires greater mental intensity and use of working memory, which may explain this discrepancy.
Runners’ speed and heart rate was also measured, but didn’t have an effect on memory performance.
Co-author Tracy Alloway, an associate professor of psychology at UNF, said, “Working memory is increasingly recognized as a crucial cognitive skill, and these findings are great news for people looking for a fun way to boost their working memory.”
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides more information on the human brain and how it works.