(Est Read Time: 4-min)
In today’s busy world, we are constantly faced by challenges both at work and at home. Deadlines, projects, family events, lack of sleep – the list goes on. When we’re faced with too many challenges it can start to feel like we are a cup that someone’s trying to pour more water into, even though it’s already filled to the brim.
The combination of stress, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise can take a toll on both our productivity and the quality of our work. A stressed brain is less effective at processing information, making critical decisions and staying focused. The question is, what should our strategy be for maintaining our productivity and mental health during periods when we’re feeling stressed and it’s hard to make healthy choices?
In this article, we are going to go over a few ways to keep your brain sharp. Let’s talk about what you can do to lower your stress and become more effective during times that are especially busy.
Understanding How Movement Improves Brain Function and Productivity
One of the world experts on optimizing brain function is Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist and expert in brain science from the University of Washington. Dr. Medina is the author of Brain Rules, which lists 12 “rules” for optimizing brain function. Let’s take a look at two that cover the need for exercise and sleep.
The human body was designed to move, and move often. The brain evolved in humans whose survival was dependent on their mobility – people who needed to walk miles every day to forage for food and find shelter.
However, over the last 100 years, our survival has become much less dependent on physical activity, with the result that modern society is very sedentary. Physical activity has become something we must actively make time for, rather than something inevitable.
Dr. Medina’s first rule focuses on the important role exercise and movement plays in optimizing brain function. It turns out that your brain works better when you stay physically active.
The good news is that it doesn’t take high-intensity exercise to experience benefits to your brain and body. Even getting up for 2-3 minutes every half hour to move your joints, roll out your muscles or go for a quick walk has many benefits.
Here are just a few things that exercise does for you:
- It increases oxygen flow to your brain, increasing and mental sharpness.
- It changes the molecular structure of the brain, making it more resilient to damage and stress.
- It relieves stress, which boosts your mental health.
- Even 30-minutes of low-intensity exercise reduces the risk of dementia and reduces the risk and impact of many of the most prevalent chronic diseases.
Sleep is one of the most underrated components of health – including mental health. Adequate sleep improves cognition, working memory, creative thought, and several other important functions. Getting enough sleep also makes us less stressed.
Ironically, our brain is often at its busiest when we’re sleeping. When we sleep, our brain goes through an important cleansing process where the flow of cerebrospinal fluid to the brain is actively increased and harmful protein waste is swept out. There are indications that this process might be very important to fighting the negative effects of stress and may be important in the prevention of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Inadequate sleep causes all of these functions to decline and decreases our mental capacity and effectiveness.
For more on Brain Rule #2 and cognitive function, and further strategies like taking naps and not scheduling important meetings in the afternoon, check out these additional notes from Dr. Medina.
A Little Movement Leads to Big Results
Let’s talk a little more about exercise. We’ve all seen charts that tell us we need to be physically active for 30 to 60 minutes a day, several days a week. However, that’s not always possible when we’re juggling family obligations, our work schedules, or physical limitations.
Don’t stress about it! Fitting in a few short 5- to 10-minute throughout your day can give you the boost you need.
Need a little more convincing on how powerful movement can be for our mental health and productivity? Check out this TEDx talk that explores why our brains are built for movement.
Exercising Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Not all movement equates to moderate or vigorous exercise. In fact, many movements that are considered low intensity still provide plenty of benefits.
If you’re strapped for time, or the thought of exercise sends shudders down your spine, you’ll want to keep things simple. You don’t need the gym to clear that brain fog; you can easily perform simple movements wherever you are to give yourself a boost.
Easy Ways to Add a Little More Movement to Your Life:
- Take a Microbreak and perform breathe, roll and move.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park further away from your office building.
- Take a walk whenever you have a break – if you use a cell phone for work, try taking a walk during your calls.
- Meet a friend for lunch – go somewhere outside of the office.
- For one-on-one meetings, give “walking” meetings a whirl.
- If you work in a multi-floor building, take the stairs and use the bathroom on another floor.
- Feel free to fidget while sitting at your desk; it’s good to keep your body moving.
- Get up to refill your water bottle – it helps with hydration too!
It's important to take frequent movement breaks, especially for those of us working jobs that involve a lot of sitting. Stop what you're doing and get moving so you can improve your mental health and productivity today!
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Disclaimer: Vimocity does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
If you experience any pain with any movements immediately stop and consult a qualified healthcare provider.
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