Your Greatest Performance Enhancer

Why is it when we have busy periods of work, such as end of financial year, the first thing we let slip is our exercise routine? Closely followed by our sleep, food choices and finally our sanity. Sure we are pushed for time and priorities must be made. However when we are looking at maximising our brain performance and mitigating stress, exercise has long been proven to be our greatest performance enhancer on many levels.

So how do you utilise exercise in maximising your ability to perform at your best cognitively?

1. Relieve Stress and Manage Depression
Exercise has a major effect on stress, depression, anxiety and mindfulness, with 98.5% of workers in the law profession indicating that exercise decreased their stress significantly. However the common misconception is that this is due to a chemical imbalance of ‘feel good’ hormones known as endorphins in the brain. However scientists are now discovering that clinical depression is more than a lack of feel good endorphins but is more to do with our brain cells starting to deplete. This brain cell reduction is due to a reduction in a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is responsible for building new brain cells. BDNF production is reduced by stress but most importantly it is released during exercise.

2. Increase Memory and Learning
There is a good reason why the worlds richest man and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is known to run on a treadmill every morning while he listens to inspirational talks everyday before going to work.

In the book, Spark by Professor John Ratey, he gives a host of studies and anecdotes on the power of exercise for learning, stress, focus, anti-aging, addiction, depression and anxiety. To highlight his arguments Professor Ratey shares a story of school children in Naperville, America. In 1990, after coming across an article on the declining health of US children, wirily PE teacher, John Lawler decided something needed to change. With a jam-packed curriculum already, Lawler decided he would take a group of students to run 1 mile or 1.6km every morning before school. However instead of assessing students based on the time they ran it in he assessed them according to their effort based on their heart rate monitor. But what was most interesting and unexpected about this social study was the impact it had on academic performance. Not only did the students who ran before school significantly increase their academic results overall, the subjects they did best in were the ones they did directly following the exercise. This is because of the release of BDNF in creating the new brain cells. Exercise builds the brain cells, it’s up to us to fill them.

3. Promote Creative Thinking
One of the best ways to incorporate movement into your day is to take regular breaks throughout the day. Scientists tested creativity before and after walking on a treadmill. In 81% of the participants, creative output increased after walking, with the average subject increasing output by 60%. In essence, a few minutes of walking substantially increased the subject’s ability to see things from different angles, facilitating new perspective. It doesn’t have to be intensive (but it doesn’t hurt). As research suggest the higher the intensity the greater the release of BDNF.

So if you want to facility innovation, increase your focus, retain information and enhance ability to deal with stress, we need to think of exercise as movement and do it everyday.

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