As knowledge workers, we live in our minds a lot. We sit in front of the computer screen for most of the day, working on Excel, or Powerpoint, browsing the Internet, and consuming endless amounts of information. Our exercise consists of walking across the street to grab lunch, walking to the coffee machine, or overworking or fingers and wrists by typing nonstop. For the remainder of the day, we sit in our chairs at work, then sit in our couches at home.
When I follow this pattern, my mind becomes very inefficient. I’m unable to focus on one task for very long, instead opening more and more tabs in Safari. Even then, I can’t read an article to the end before drifting to another. I try to recapture the attention and energy of my mind, to little effect.
When I get in this state, I immediately recognize the reason – I need to get out of my mind and into my body to allow my mind time to re-energize. I need to go for a run or head to the gym – only an intense workout will do – so that my awareness is turned to my muscles and my lungs, and away from my thoughts and to-do lists. I rejoined my favourite gym in Kingston – Ript Gym – to stay consistent.
As more oxygen gets pumped through my body, my mind becomes alert and focused again and I can get back to work. There’s actual science behind this. Here’s an excerpt from the blog How to Get Focused:
Recently Scott Small, of Columbia University, and Fred Gage, of the Salk Institute, found that exercise’s impact on the brain is much more powerful than simply increasing blood flow to the brain cells.
Here’s what happens when you exercise:
- As you exercise, your muscles contract.
- This releases chemicals, including a protein called IGF-1.
- IGF-1 travels to the brain and stimulates the release of several chemicals, including brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF).
- Regular exercise increases levels of BDNF.
- BDNF stimulates neurons (brain cells) to branch and connect in new ways.
- New junctions between neurons are the basis of learning.
The creation of new brain cells is not only critical in terms of becoming more focused, but also preventing depression. A slowdown in brain cell growth may be linked to depression.
There you have it!
Brittani Rettig, a friend of mine from HBS, recently released her 30-minute workout DVD. Not only was she recently promoted to Managing Consultant for IBM, but she teaches a fitness class at 24 hour fitness in Dallas, writes a fitness blog – Grit by Brit – and found time to create a professional fitness DVD as well – GRIT by Brit Ultimate Body Burn. A girl after my own heart!