exercise and brain
At a recent iNform Corporate function, I had the privilege of presenting to the cream of Adelaide’s small and medium-sized business directors, and here’s what I noticed:
They all dressed REALLY nicely!
The reason I noted this, above anything else is, I was there to talk about the benefits of exercising before AND during work to enhance productivity. I was duly informed this is not practical for well-dressed, nice smelling people who wished to remain that way through the course of their workday.
So I want to throw a spin on the perception that meaningful exercise must ALWAYS make you stinky!
In my recent football article, here’s what I eluded to:
Is your workday structured around your physiology, or is your physiology dictated to by your workday?
On a very complex level, asleep or awake, our bodies operate in cycles. It is physiologically impossible to be firing on all cylinders for the entire day, and so the busy structure of our external world can deplete our reserve of internal endurance.
You can’t force productivity.
It was recently presented to me that the greatest barrier to productive workdays were M&M’s! It took me a while to work out that this wasn’t a reference to tasty little treats, but rather the concept of Management and Meetings.
I once worked under a manager who, I’m sure, had a KPI to interrupt work as often as he could! He would constantly pop by for a chat, to see what I was up to, and to add new tasks to my hectic schedule. He called meetings for everything, and scheduled these – without fail – in the most inconvenient times for me. Continue reading
Each waking day there is a battle between our internal physiology and our external environment. In the modern western format, the advantage often lies with the external. Many of us who walk into an office (of varying description) experience the pressure of a tight schedule to fulfill where the expectation of a work-day is grafted around constant output.
I’m going to indulge my AFL bias, and suggest that if our work day were a football game, the match report might go something like this:
Heading into opposition territory, bottom placed Internal Physiology were always going to have a tough day up against ladder leader External Conditions. With the roof closed on External Environment Arena, the home side took early ascendancy with Caffeine and Email goaling in the opening minutes. Ringing Mobile was busy around the packs and provided further scoreboard pressure while Caffeine asserted dominance up forward slamming through a second goal before quarter time. Continue reading
Before I became a parent, the journey of cooking a meal included any or all of the following:
- a nice beverage
- experimentation with flavours
- frolicking in the herb garden
- good company
- my choice of music
After I became a parent, the process of making a meal now includes:
- a selection of steamed vegetables
- some form of boiled or grilled meat
- a tired, hungry little person who communicates her lack of appreciation for my cooking by decorating the walls and floors with it
- Justine Clarke’s album ‘I Like To Sing’, generally for the fifth time on any given day
The end goal is the same – to ensure that everyone is fed – but the path to getting there is very different! Suffice to say that my levels of ‘motivation’ for the latter are somewhat lower than they were for the former.
How does this relate to exercise?
Running is not for everyone!
I was recently on a running track alongside a busy highway when I received a spray of abuse from a passenger in a car. It’s not the first time it has happened – actually it’s surprisingly common. Obviously it didn’t hurt me, and I suppose it comes out of the joy within an action that bears no consequence. Whatever. I don’t really get it…but it leaves me thinking every time. In a twisted way it motivates me. I start to think about how I would respond if the abuser actually had the gaul to do it NOT from a car driving 80kph in the opposite direction to me!
So, with tongue slightly in cheek – and without wanting to be labelled an internet tough guy – I leave my response to destiny in the hands of cyberspace.
Here’s why you’re better off undertaking some physical activity than riding shotgun in a passenger vehicle:
Yeah yeah, I hear the droning! Of course we need to be fit…
Actually, I’d like to take this opportunity to put fitness into context.
The current ‘buzz’ around training is Boot Camps or similar fitness programs – an all or nothing approach to training – where every session is designed to be harder than the last. The mere thought of it is exhausting to me and as such – from my experience – poses a challenge to maintaining motivation!
The physiological basis of programming for fitness is to improve physical performance through the progressive increase in intensity. Mental performance and productivity, however, needs to be approached a little differently.
I begin by referring back to an earlier post to expand on a single point regarding our western setting.
As stated in this article, stress should be acute – we perceive threat, we deal with it, and we move on. However, the nature of many stressful situations are diluted, and so we see an internal build up. Our society is laden with fighters who have nobody to fight!
We need to chase a tiger every once in a while!
Think about the recent times where you’ve had more hours of work than working hours in the day. That’s your internal queue to ramp up a response that could – and should – challenge a raging bull. The difference being that with the bull, you dodge it or end up wearing a horn; either way, the outcome is determined within a short matter of time. Continue reading
This year I decided that I want to exercise more, but not because I want to lose weight! I hear many resolutions at the beginning of a new year to shed unwanted kilos. These are made with the notion that effort will be required, with resolve for active pursuit. There’s a good chance that you know someone who began the year with this goal, and their plan of attack may well have included exercise. I’m not writing with any advice on maintaining this resolution into the new year, but instead am wanting to put a new spin on why a sustained exercise regime may be important to you over the coming year.
I’m interested in enhancing my ability to absorb and retain information. This doesn’t come through as a common resolution, particularly in relation to an exercise program. As in the title of this post, accumulation of wisdom is often assumed to be resultant from being around for a while! Yet even though we have embarked on a new year with fresh expectations to change our world, reality is that most of us return to surroundings of familiar stimuli, generally in the form of routine. On the whole, routine is a positive aspect to lifestyle – it affords us proficiency and efficiency in what we do. However, too much routine also has the potential to rob us of learning capacity through understimulation of the brain’s learning centre. This may be the product of carrying out days and weeks fulfilling familiar tasks that do not challenge the mind with enough stimulus to form growth of new brain cells.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein found in the brain with the role of building the circuitry of cells by which the brain functions. It is responsible for ensuring adequate storage space for any new information that is to be taken on board. In the absence of BDNF, new information is rejected from the brain in the same way that items are rejected from an overflowing storage locker. It simply won’t fit! Deficiency of BDNF causes cellular breakdown within the brain, which brings about a scattering of messages and a reduced ability to focus.
Clinical evidence is now showing us that exercise not only increases the presence of BDNF in the brain, but that there is a close correlation with the accumulation of exercise. Higher exercise levels (frequency and duration) are associated with higher levels of BDNF in the Hippocampus – the long term storage area of the brain where memories are filed – effectively creating more storage space in the brain via the addition of new storage units. So the essence of learning is much the same as the resolution to lose weight – effort is required to make yourself smarter! Don’t leave it to chance through the ticking away of another year in the hope that time on earth will bring about wisdom. Exercising is a proactive approach to build and fill brain cells with new information that will ensure you end the year wiser than you began.
Tis the season to be jolly…jolly busy! Deadlines, shopping, crowds, family, finances, holidays…for many, the list goes on. So don’t worry – I don’t intend on making you feel guilty for not prioritising exercise during the silly season.
I was feeling particularly flat recently, thinking through the above scenarios to instigate a survival plan. A niggling cold and some seasonal allergy had tipped my physical and mental states to the brink. Trying to balance the ‘should-do’s’ with the ‘have-to’s’ is hard at the best of times, and the unfulfilled training plan adds insult to injury. I succumbed to the ongoing internal battle between the logical part of my mind that says there’s no time, and the educated part of my mind that knows the benefits of exercise (and no – these two areas should not be separate!), and dragged my weary legs down the street in what could only be described as a plod. Gradually, as I achieved some momentum, a funny thing happened: with the increase in intensity came a decrease in my consciousness surrounding the stressors that were weighing me down.
It is not the first time that I’ve experienced this phenomenon, however I find it an understated fact about exercise. As well as being good for health, necessary for weight management and an important part of rehabilitation, exercise can actually make you feel better! Clinical research is drawing the link between exercise and it’s positive effects on mental state – both acutely and chronically. Studies have shown that anxious people respond well to distraction, and that the distraction provided through exercise has a longer lasting effect than many commonly practised therapeutic activities for easing tension of the mind. Acutely, exercise decreases the drive of overactive muscle spindles, reducing muscle tension. It increases seratonin and norepinephrine (‘happy hormones’), and ramps up other aspects of the sympathetic nervous system via an alternate pathway to what worrying does. The acute neuro-physiological response brings about an internal calm and ‘can-do’ response to impending situations. Chronically, exercise generates and reinforces new neural pathways by hijacking the amygdala (the processing centre in the brain for memory and emotional response) and steering it’s response in a positive psycho-physiological direction.
Dr. John Ratey has written a great book named ‘Spark’, in which he describes exercise as being a circuit breaker to your situation. The complex series of internal reactions that are ‘wired’ into our cerebral response to worrying situations can be altered, simply by moving our bodies with a little bit of vigour. Though logically there’s no time for exercise at this time of year, the research presented in Spark suggests that if you distract the ‘worry’ response with physical activity, you will generate more space to deal with that which makes you worry in the first place. So the moral for this festive season, or for any season really, is that movement is effective medicine for the cares that bring you down and should be enjoyed in greater moderation.