Want to cut down on the time it takes to learn something new? Try adding 3-minute bursts of intense exercise to your regular workout. Plenty of research has linked activity with higher test scores, but a recent study in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory suggests pouring it on physically can help you soak it up mentally.German researchers tested 27 young men after moderate exercise, intense exercise, or no exercise. Only intense exercise — two 3-minute sprints, spaced 2 minutes apart — yielded benefit: 20% faster vocabulary learning.

Sprints can be incorporated into nearly any form of physical activity — running, biking, swimming, even strength training — simply by ramping up the rate of activity to maximum aerobic potential. Beyond boosting brainpower, sprints rev up metabolism and also elevate human growth hormone levels by 450%. Sprints can help increase your exercise capacity, thereby extending longevity. Do “nature sprints” for added benefits — higher cognitive recall when compared to urban settings. Fuel your mind muscles with nutrient-rich berries, broccoli and spinach. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and nuts also improve cognitive function. A healthy diet plus regular exercise helps protect against obesity, which doubles the risk of developing dementia.

Bonus: Exercise variety — i.e., the number of different activities you engage in — also lowers the risk of dementia down the road.

Published August 1, 2010