How to exercise to boost brain performance

by John Hilton04 Oct 2016
The gold standard of exercising for better brain performance is simply 20-30 minutes of daily aerobic activity, said Dr Jenny Brockis, medical practitioner and author of the book Future Brain: The 12 Keys To Create Your High Performance Brain (Wiley).

That’s the kind of exercise that boosts the heart rate and make us breathe faster, which has been shown to increase the amount of cerebral blood flow, she told L&D Professional.

“If you have got more blood pumping to your head, you have got more nutrients and oxygen arriving,” said Dr Brockis.

“That helps with better performance and really sets us up for better thinking across our day.”

Dr Brockis said we should be doing some form of exercise before we start our day, but she acknowledges that for some people that could be an awkward time.

“It has been shown that the benefit to the brain that exercise produces comes after the exercise,” she said.

“Ideally, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning, but if that can't be managed then lunchtime will be fine. Some exercise is better than no exercise."

Dr Brockis said the main thing is to find something that you are willing to commit to. Otherwise, you are in danger of doing something once and then forgetting about it.

“It’s about committing to making it part of our daily routine, so we just get up and do it as part of everyday life to get the best out of it,” she said.

But optimal brain health is about more than just cardio exercise.

“What the science shows is that it’s the level of physical activity that we are engaged in overall during our day that also counts to better brain performance,” said Dr Brockis.

This is why we are seeing an increasing interest in things like stand-up meetings, walking meetings, treadputers and stand-up desks. These things encourage us to be more active during the day because simply standing up has been shown to increase our level of attention by more than 30%, added Dr Brockis.

“The more we move around, the better we are able to think during the day. So we need a combination of aerobic exercise and more physical activity during our day,” she said.

“The benefits of going for a walk three times a week includes reducing the risk of stroke and protecting our brain significantly. Three 30-minute walks a week is not a big ask.”

Furthermore, activities like yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are great just to mix up an exercise routine and make it fun.

“If it is something we just see as a chore, we will find any old excuse to not do it,” said Dr Brockis.
 
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