Does Exercise Affect Reaction Time?

Improving your reaction time can benefit you in sports and everyday activities.
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You don’t have to be an Olympic sprinter, tennis player or soccer player to benefit from an increased reaction time. Being able to respond quicker to external stimuli can benefit you during work or play. Your reaction time is influenced by the speed and accuracy of your cognitive abilities and your cognition is influenced by factors such as diet and overall physical health. Understanding how these factors work together can go a long way into improving your reaction time and help to bring out the world class athlete in you.


    The speed of your cognition -- processing of information -- carries a lot of weight in regards to how quickly you react to external stimuli. In turn, your cognition is improved and maintained by a healthy circulatory system. Exercise, especially aerobic based exercise, helps to increase your heart rate and improve circulation to your brain. When your brain is benefited with increased circulation, you are able to process information faster and more accurately, lending to faster reaction times.


    When flexibility in your muscles is decreased, they become rigid and are unable to respond to signals sent from your brain in a fluid and efficient manner. This negatively affects your response time as your body compensates for the rigidity in your muscles by limiting your range and speed of motion, oftentimes to prevent injury and strain. Exercise techniques that incorporate stretching, such as yoga, increase your muscle flexibility and contribute to their overall responsiveness. Your muscles will be able to react to stimuli with fluidity and accuracy, factors that contribute to improving your reaction time.


    The stronger your muscles, the more energy they will be able to exert over a given period of time. This relates to your muscle endurance, an important factor in sports such as tennis and soccer, where adequate reaction times need to be maintained for long periods. If your muscles are too weak to perform a particular task for an extended period, your movements will become slower to compensate for decreased energy levels. Performing strengthening exercises that incorporate movements similar to the task or sport you are participating in can assist in ensuring that your muscles maintain a high enough energy level to continually react to stimuli with quickness and accuracy.


    Power is your muscles' ability to exert maximum energy for a given task in the shortest amount of time. This is important in sports such as sprinting where having a high-energy output relates to your reaction to stimuli, such as the starting gun sound. When your muscles are exercised to produce energy at high rates in short periods, they develop a higher rate of energy expenditure. The amount of time it takes them to move from point A to point B is lessened. Performing explosive exercises such as squat jumps or other high velocity drills will provide your muscles with the energy training they require to make quick and efficient responses, improving your reaction time.

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