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I have noticed that I feel much more mentally sharp after doing an hour of moderate exercise in the morning. On the contrary, when I meditate, I feel no such difference in my mental alertness. Isn't meditation supposed to improve working memory?

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  • $\begingroup$ I badly want to answer this question with just, "No." Because it's that simple. Exercise is like the wonder drug to end all wonder drugs. Not really an 'SE answer,' though. $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr Mar 19 '15 at 7:27
  • $\begingroup$ My intuition tells me that it really depends on several factors, specifically as it relates to the cause of poor working memory in a particular case. If your working memory is impaired by mental distraction, then yes, meditation could help significantly; but if you are not distracted or impulsive, then exercise would probably help more. The relative effect of exercise surely hinges on your current physiological health as well, such as your current circulation and cerebral oxygen supply. $\endgroup$ – Michael Jan 22 '16 at 6:59
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Focused attention meditation practices improve focus in the long term. So the improvement is difficult to asses and could probably only be found in a standardized test setting. Physical exercise however has been demonstrated to improve mental abilities in the short term (after recovery of physical exercise) levels of circulating neurotransmitter stay elevated for approx. 48h.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2007.7022 (Meditation and focused attention)

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001691802001348 (Physical exercise and cognition)

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  • $\begingroup$ You can't tell whether an effect is imaginary or difficult to measure in some situation until someone measures it with great difficulty. ;) $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr Mar 19 '15 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ After studying the literature about the potential health effects of meditation for years my impression was that although many studies have been published, the majority lacks a proper study design. Publication bias is a major concern. Furthermore the broad field of meditation techniques can be classified as open monitoring and focused attention based techniques. Results are therefore difficult to reproduce / compare. $\endgroup$ – CuriousIndeed Mar 20 '15 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ For a good summary about the potential effects of meditation of brain structure I might suggest: "Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners." Kieran C.R. Fox et al. (2014) (The whole paper is a milestone and worth reading and not just the abstract) $\endgroup$ – CuriousIndeed Mar 20 '15 at 14:57

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