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Competitive chess player, Kassa Korley took part in the ASICS Mind Games study (Photo: Business Wire).
Competitive chess player Kassa Korley participated in the ASICS Mind Games study. Photo: Business Wire.

Asics study reveals that exercise improves mental performance

Even the brightest minds can benefit.

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Asics, the Japanese sporting goods multinational company invited competitive gamers from around the world, who specialize in brain games that rely on their cognitive function, such as chess and e-sports, to begin a physical training program.

Data collected after four months of regular exercise, in which inactive gamers increased their levels of physical practice, saw their cognitive function, well-being, and gaming performance dramatically improve, significantly sharpening their minds and increasing their competition level.

Asics noted:

Exercise can significantly improve cognitive function and advance mental performance.​ From boosting short-term memory to increasing concentration levels, exercise enhances brain power and could be the solution to helping us pass exams or excel at work.

About the experiment

Renowned mind and movement researcher Professor Brendon Stubbs developed and led the experiment measuring the mental improvement of participants based on their performance on brain games, cognitive tests and well-being questionnaires over the course of the four-month research period.

Stubbs said each player followed a training program designed by international runner-turned-coach Andrew Kastor that included medium-impact strength and cardio training and increased the players' exercise levels to 150 minutes per week.

“We all know that exercise is good for our mental and physical health but the impact on cognitive functioning has been less explored. We wanted to examine the effects of exercise on people who depend on their cognitive abilities — competitive mind gamers. Our results show significant improvements in their cognitive functioning, including concentration levels and problem-solving abilities,” said Stubbs.

Key findings

Among the most important results, the following stand out:

  • Participants' international gaming ratings improved by 75%.
  • Mental gamers' cognitive function was boosted by an average of 10%, with problem-solving skills improved by 9%, short-term memory increased by 12%, and processing speed and alertness improved by 10%.
  • Group confidence levels increased by 44%.
  • Focus improved 33% and anxiety levels plummeted 43%.
  • Players' mental well-being was significantly better, with average mental state scores improving by 31%.

Research also proves that exercise can be as effective in boosting brain function as learning a second language, reading every day, playing a new musical instrument, or completing a puzzle every day.

“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,” added Stubbs.

An upcoming documentary

Inspired by the experiment, a camera crew followed the four competitive players as they exercised regularly to improve their rankings on the international stage.

The groundbreaking documentary, Mind Games: The Experiment, narrated by renowned actor and mental health advocate Stephen Fry, documents the journeys of four gamers — Kassa Korley, Ryoei Hirano, Ben Pridmore and Sherry Nhan — who specialize in chess, mahjong, memory and esports, while competing in professional tournaments around the world.

The documentary premiered on Prime Video on Jan. 19, 2023.

Gary Raucher, EVP of Asics, stated: “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.”

The Asics study was carried out between May and September 2022, with 77 players from 20 countries completing the experiment. All passed health assessment questionnaires and completed consent forms before participating.

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