Whether you are taking a short break for lunch or a walk outdoors, it can pay dividends for your brain health, according to new research from scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. Their recent study published in the journal Current Biology found that this small action can help your brain remember your most recent activities—specifically by strengthening the connections between brain neurons.
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Neurobiologists Annet Glas and Pieter Goltstein explored this theory by observing a group of mice as their test subjects while they ran through a maze three times. Each time, the animals needed to remember the place where the scientists placed a piece of chocolate. "Mice that were trained with the longer intervals between learning phases were not able to remember the position of the chocolate as quickly," Glas said in a university release. "But on the next day, the longer the pauses, the better was the mice's memory."
To get a proper grasp on the mice's neurons, they measured the brain activity in their prefrontal cortex, which is associated with learning. After the experiment, the scientists found that the less quick turnaround activity the better in this brain region. "If three learning phases follow each other very quickly, we intuitively expected the same neurons to be activated," Goltstein said. "After all, it is the same experiment with the same information. However, after a long break, it would be conceivable that the brain interprets the following learning phase as a new event and processes it with different neurons."
In comparison, the scientists noted that short breaks going through the maze led to the activation of multiple neurons in the mice, which didn't allow strong memory of the task at hand. On the other hand, longer breaks allowed the animals to use the same brain neutrons to strengthen memory and learn. "That's why we believe that memory benefits from longer breaks," Goltstein said.