It’s no secret that physical exercise is great for body and mind, but which type of exercise is best for boosting how well we think and stay sharp, focused and at the top of our game?
Finding 30 minutes in our overstuffed, over-committed lives is getting hard. If you were hoping to find the answer lying somewhere in the top drawer of your desk along with the paper clips, knobs of Blu-tack, and half-chewed rubber, then sorry to disappoint, because the real solution to our brain fog, forgetfulness and confusion is right under our nose.
It’s a bit further down than that, actually. Yes, the vehicle we use for transporting our brain from point A to point B is what primes our brain for best performance.
Exercise (especially for those who are allergic) can hang wearily as a burden of guilt as we are constantly reminded that 30-60 minutes of huffy-puffy stuff is the best thing for health since sliced bread.
Running improves academic results in kids, boosting attention in class and reducing behavioural problems. Brisk walking three times a week boosts memory, elevates mood and improves cognition.
However, other forms of exercise are also brain boosters, including the one called moving.
What’s the big deal about movement?
Physical activity increases cerebral blood-flow, enhancing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to our brain cells. But, more than this, it stimulates the release of brain chemicals, including BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), essential to neuronal health and function and the process of neurogenesis – the production, survival, maturation of new neurons.
Exercise and physical activity prime our brain for best performance.
The problem is, too many of us spend too much time in the one activity that is especially dangerous to our brain health, sitting.
Sitting has been described as the new smoking. Why? Because the longer we sit, the more we compromise our physical and mental health, longevity and how well we think.
In addition to varicose veins, haemorrhoids, back pain, headaches, increased risk of bowel cancer and heart disease, prolonged sitting is associated with an increase in anxiety symptoms, and loss of concentration and executive brain function, including planning, organising and decision-making. When we are tired, but feel compelled to stay chained to our desk a little longer to finish off a piece of work, we are better off taking a break and getting up to move.
The worst thing about prolonged sitting is that it effectively negates any benefit we would have otherwise obtained by doing all that lovely exercise we did in the gym or while out on our run.
Happily, the solution to moving more isn’t difficult:
- Get comfy with less comfort
While convenient to drive, take the bus or train, none of these require much movement. Look for alternatives such as cycling or walking for at least part of your journey. Moving requires us to get off our bottoms and move those appendages commonly known as legs. The more we move, the more energised we feel and the clearer our thinking becomes.
- Stand for attention
The simple act of standing more can boost attention by up to 40 per cent. What are you waiting for? Let’s take a stand.
Stand-up desks have become popular in many workplaces and they don’t have to be the expensive, customised versions. If you were wondering how to make use of those ‘Yellow Pages’ that no one uses any more, they make a perfect base to rest your laptop on while you work in the standing position.
- Call for a walking meeting
The next level beyond a stand-up meeting is the walking version. Instead of sitting in a café, why not arrange your meet-ups in the park?
- I’ll take that call now, please, Miss Moneypenny
Choose to stand when making or receiving phone calls. Better still, if the person you need to speak to is in the office or the same building, why not move to speak directly with them face to face? It deepens the meaning and understanding of the conversation, reduces the risk of misinterpretation and boosts our mood through this real person-to-person connection.
Practising any form of physical activity has been shown to be as effective in boosting our cognition and executive thinking skills as aerobic and strength-training programs. While practising your juggling skills might not be appropriate during your performance review, try scheduling in a regular 15-minute brain break every 60-90 minutes to move and give your brain the time it needs to reboot and function better for your next chunk of focused activity.
For your next important thinking task, elevate your thinking powers by getting moving first.