Human beings, like all animals, are born to move. It is built into our DNA and into the many benefits that moving affords. When we move, we get a boost in the feel-good neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. We increase the oxygen to our brain and vital organs, and our brain synchronizes. Our brain releases Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) and our muscles release a protein called Cathepsin B, both of which improve our memory and help our brain grow new brain cells.
These innate responses from the simple act of moving lead us to feel more focused, to be more creative, and to be better problem solvers. It builds our feeling of autonomy and self-confidence, which often inspires us to take on new challenges. In so many ways, movement is one of the best brain performance enhancement tools.
Unfortunately, as we age, many of us slowly lose our ability to move and, therefore, lose these powerful benefits. This too often happens because of three avoidable patterns.
These are often out of our control, but they are definitely on the rise. As of 2016, 1 in 2 American adults were affected by a musculoskeletal condition; comparable to the total number of people living with a chronic lung or heart condition. Some lose the ability to move, which in turn can have a big impact on day-to-day energy, mood, and productivity. Others may work through pain, which can push the brain to move toward survival mode rather than agility.
Solution: Start each day with some movement that strengthens the feedback loop between your joints and your brain, while also building mobility, stability, and balance. Think of it like flossing your teeth – in order to be effective, it needs to be consistent and it needs to be simple. At TIGNUM, we use a series of Daily Prep movements because they are simple, effective, and they take very little time. If you are new to exercise, or returning from an injury, we highly recommend you go to a qualified trainer to seek guidance.
Too much intensity
We’ve long hypothesized that too much intense movement creates brain fog, but some recent research out of the University of South Australia brought this to focus. They found that the best dose to optimize the neuroplasticity benefits of movement is 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training or 25 minutes of moderate, steady-state aerobic exercise. Excessive or sustained, high-intensity training creates a robust cortisol response that doesn’t quickly resolve. They found this elevation in cortisol to reduce the cognitive benefits.
Solution: During the workweek, or in periods of high load, focus on the optimal dose of movement. If you’re someone who likes to compete or push yourself to the limit, consider reducing the frequency of your longer, high-intensity sessions and see if you notice a difference in your mental agility. Think of exercise as a drug. In the right dose, at the right time, and when done properly, it is great. But too much can lead to adverse effects you didn’t anticipate.
Not factoring other sources of load
The participants in the aforementioned study were not business professionals like you. They didn’t have to run from meeting to meeting, or travel around the world to solve problems, or constantly have to tackle emotional and cognitive challenges. In other words, they were only dealing with physical fatigue. In your busy life, you have to face many other challenges and loads, and this contributes significantly to cognitive and emotional fatigue. This leads to an even higher increase in your stress hormone, cortisol, which negates many of the benefits of movement.
Solution: As you prepare to exercise, consider your load the previous 5 days. How recovered are you? How has your sleep been? Then, look ahead at today and maybe even the next few days. How many tough conversations do you anticipate? How many peak performances do you have? By factoring in your other loads and adjusting your movement plan accordingly, you can maximize your mental agility and Rule Your Impact.
Do you fall into any of these three traps? If so, try some of these suggestions and enjoy the many benefits of movement.
As always, we’d love to know what you think.