Written by Larisa A. White

Don’t you wish we still had recess? You know, that glorious time in the elementary school day when we all got to have a snack, a drink, and then run around and play in the school yard? Remember how much fun it was? Remember how much easier it was to concentrate on schoolwork, afterward?

Well, it turns out there are physiological reasons for that mental boost. Our brains require three important resources in order for our neurons to keep firing, and the signals to keep flowing from one neuron to the next. Without these three resources, our brains get sluggish, we lose our ability to concentrate, and our working memory turns into a Tinker Toy Traffic jam, causing confusion, errors, and general unpleasantness. So, what are the three magic ingredients?

GLUCOSE is the type of simple sugar found in fruit — apples, raisins, kiwis, plums — any solid fruit you like. But not juice, sodas, candy or pastries, which contain mostly fructose and sucrose . The sugars are NOT interchangeable, and glucose is the fuel our brains need.

WATER helps get the glucose into the bloodstream and up to the brain faster, but it is also the main ingredient in our cerebrospinal fluid — the liquid that surrounds and cushions the brain, and enables our neurons to transmit their signals. Think of this as mental lubrication.

As any pyromaniac will tell you, nothing’s going to burn without a supply of OXYGEN. We need it to burn the glucose that fuels our ability to think. That means exercise. Anything that gets our heart and lungs pumping will oxygenate both our blood, and our brains.

Studies** have shown that these three simple things can improve the performance and accuracy of our working memory, attention, and motor-function, as well as improving our ability to recall information from long term memory — by as much as 35% ! So, next time you’re feeling sluggish and stupid, or just want a quick boost to your performance and productivity, eat a piece of fruit, drink a glass of water and then go outside for a few minutes of play. Jump rope, play hopscotch, take a brisk walk, or skip around the block.

You’ll get more done, in less time, with a smile on your face, if you’d only stop, and take a break, for RECESS!

* Photos in this post are protected by a creative commons attribution license:

“FruitBowl” and “Water” are by Larisa¬†A. White
“Hopscotch 2,” is by Lenore M. Edman (
“Jungle Gym Dialogues,” is by Harpersbizarre (

** For those interested in the research behind this post, check out:

Korol, D.L. & Gold, P.E. (1998). “Glucose, memory, and aging,” in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, v. 67, pp. 764S-771S.

Scholey, A.B., Moss, M.C., Neave, N., & Wesnes, K. (1999). “Cognitive performance, hyperoxia, and heart rate following oxygen administration in healthy young adults,” in Physiological Behavior, v. 67, pp. 783-789.