Want to boost your working memory? Take off your shoes, as a new study has found that running barefoot leads to better cognitive performance.
Working memory, our ability to recall and process information, is used throughout our lifespan. By improving it, we may be able to realise gains in key areas, from school to work to retirement, researchers said.
“Working memory is increasingly recognised as a crucial cognitive skill, and these findings are great news for people looking for a fun way to boost their working memory,” said Tracy Alloway from the University of North Florida (UNF) in the US.
The researchers enlisted 72 participants between the ages of 18 and 44, who ran both barefoot and wore shoes at a comfortable, self-selected pace for approximately 16 minutes. Working memory was measured before and after running.
The results of this research found a significant increase – approximately 16 per cent – in working memory performance in the barefoot-running condition.
There was no significant increase in working memory when running with shoes. Additionally, the speed and heart rate of the participants was measured but neither was found to have any impact on working memory performance.
“The little things often have the greatest impact. This research shows us that we can realise our cognitive potential and enjoy ourselves at the same time,” said lead researcher Ross Alloway from UNF.
“If we take off our shoes and go for a run, we can finish smarter than when we started,” he said.
When running barefoot, one often has to avoid stepping on potentially hurtful objects by using precise foot placement. As a result, study participants were required to step on flat objects to simulate running barefoot in an outdoors context.
Though participants stepped on the flat objects with shoes and barefoot, only the barefoot condition saw improvements in working memory.
According to researchers, it is possible that the barefoot condition required a more intensive use of working memory because of the extra tactile and proprioceptive demands associated with barefoot running, which may account for the working memory gains.
The study was published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills.