Exercise Made Competitive Gamers Better At Esports – Here’s What They Did

Pro gamer Sherry Nhan operating a gaming controller
Pro gamer Sherry Nhan took part in the Mind Games experiment (Image credit: Asics)

Everyone knows exercise is good for your physical health, and there’s now a lot of research showing how sports like running can improve your mental health. However, it’s more surprising to see evidence that exercise can also make you smarter.

That’s what the results of Asics’ Mind Games experiment suggest. The study, developed and led by clinical physiotherapist Professor Brendon Stubbs, invited competitive gamers from a range of disciplines to take part in an exercise programme, and after four months the gamers showed dramatic improvements in several areas.

Their cognitive function was boosted by 10% on average, with their problem-solving abilities improving by 9% and their processing speed and alertness improving by 10%, translating into improved results in their sports. The group also enjoyed increased confidence and concentration levels, with their anxiety dropping.

Keen to find out more about what the gamers did in their exercise programme, we spoke to the coach who created it, Andrew Kastor.

How did you structure the exercise programme?

I created three different levels of 16-week training programmes for the Mind Gamers to follow.  Each of the plans had a very gentle approach in adaptation to exercise stimulus. The easiest of the aerobic training programs started off with just 10 minutes of walking on day one and gradually worked up to 150 minutes of aerobic activity by week 14 of the programme.

The hardest programme started off with 20-30 minutes of walking three to four days per week and progressed to approximately 200-plus minutes of aerobic exercise per week.  

At the onset of the training programme, each participant performed two physical tests, the 12-minute Cooper Run/Walk and a max push-up test, then they repeated the tests at eight and 16 weeks to mark their progress.

What areas did you focus on in particular?

Many of the strength and stretching exercises that I prescribed focused on improving posture. My guess was that most of the Mind Gamers were weak in these areas, especially if they were self-proclaimed “sedentary”. My goal was to emphasise stretching the hip flexors and quadriceps muscles, along with the pectoralis or chest muscles and strengthen the rhomboids or upper-back muscles to help with postural strength, which in turn leads to better oxygenation of every system of the body as respiration is unhindered.

Any exercise or movement that improves posture, I believe, will improve cognitive function.  Also, constancy with a sound, well-rounded training programme, I feel will improve cognitive function in everyone.

How intense was the exercise involved?

My goal for each of the three plans I created was to be very conservative and focus on staying in the aerobic heart rate zone (50-65% of your maximum heart rate) as I believed this was best practice for more than 75% of the participants to follow.  

My primary concern was to keep all 77 participants healthy so that they could complete the study and make physical activity a part of their lifestyle long after the study was over. Many of the Asics Frontrunners [a community of running enthusiasts] and coaches involved found that their participants were progressing faster than the plan and consulted with me on how to progress them out of the aerobic-only training. Quite a few of the participants started interval training and during their workouts entered into the upper threshold zone (75-85% of their maximum heart rate) of training.

A documentary about Mind Games is streaming on Amazon Prime now.  

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.