The Cognitive benefits of Physical Activity/Fitness
I am going to make a bit of an assumption here, but if you travel for work, I am going to assume that you are what I refer to as a knowledge worker. What I mean by “knowledge worker” is someone that makes their living based on what they know rather than what they ‘do’ (I.E. Physical in nature such as a construction worker, builder or road worker) These jobs, although they require a very specific type of knowledge and skill are typically more physical in nature and ‘local’, that is there is not usually a lot of travel involved. Also, as these jobs are physical in nature, the need for someone to work to maintain their fitness level, either while traveling or at home, is not usually a concern!
So, you are a knowledge worker, this to me means that you want to stay sharp and “on top of your game” in business and in life.
Exercise and physical activity are your friends here!
You already know that exercise improves your physical fitness and self-confidence but staying in shape can also boost your brainpower. Regular, moderately intense exercise maintains healthy blood pressure and weight, helps you feel more energetic, lifts your mood, improves self-confidence, lowers stress and anxiety, and keeps your heart healthy. Raising your heartbeat sends blood and oxygen to the brain, but other changes happen, too.
There have been numerous studies over the years that show how beneficial exercise is to maintaining and even improving your thinking and memory skills.
Maintaining ‘balance’ in your Fitness routine
As I have written in previous posts, as humans we are creatures of habit. We like routine and tend to stick to what we like and are ‘good’ at.
In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
Resistance training did not have the same results. This is important if you only do resistance training or weight lifting.
In order to get the most in your quest to improve your cognitive abilities through exercise, balance is key and you should incorporate Cardio into your routine.
Weight training is fantastic for your muscles and bones and should most definitely be part of your fitness routine, both at home and while you travel. However, balance is important and you should incorporate different types of training to maintain balance and get the most from your efforts.
Another study in Germany, of elderly German citizens, showed that exercise to improve balance, coordination and agility made a clear and positive impact on the participant’s brain structure and cognitive function.
This is another very strong reason why you should vary your routine and balance your program to include all aspects of fitness.
Reduced risk of dementia
A 2014 study from the University of Eastern Finland has shown that the regular physical activity and exercise, even if started in mid-life can reduce the chances of dementia setting in as we age. The study found that people who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were less active. The research also showed that it’s never too late to start. Becoming more physically active after midlife was shown to lower dementia risk.
As a knowledge worker, this alone should be enough to get you “off the proverbial couch” and start moving!
Improved memory skills.
If you travel often for work, you may sometimes find yourself tired and a bit dragged down. This can manifest itself in you sometimes finding yourself a bit ‘foggy’ in meetings. Perhaps you blame it on being tired and jet-lagged. It may be, however, research has shown that exercise turns out to be an excellent way to enhance your brain health and thus improving memory.
Research suggests that exercising moderately and regularly stimulates brain regions involved in memory function to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better. When you exercise and move around, you are using more brain cells, using more brain cells turns on the genes to make more BDNF.
As a busy professional perhaps you are ‘juggling’ a lot of different things at the same time. You need to remember which client is expecting your follow up and what that follow up. Yes, we all take notes, and should, but there are some things you just need to remember.
Regular exercise, whether it be strength training or cardio is a proven way to help you improve your memory.
Researchers at the University of North Florida put people through a routine of dynamic exercises, such as walking on a balance beam, navigating around objects, pole climbing, and carrying awkwardly weighted objects, such as Sandbags, then tested the cognitive effects. Their findings? Participants’ working memory shot up 50 percent. Exercises such as this force people to adapt to different environmental and terrain changes, thus challenging — and strengthening — their working memory…
As we get older, It’s natural for some regions our brain to begin to shrink. For instance, studies show the hippocampus shrinks one to two percent annually in people without dementia — a loss that is associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive difficulties.
Another study has shown that Adults who exercised (walked) for 40 minutes, three days a week had an increase of 2% in their hippocampus over a year-long time period.
The bottom line
The facts are there, and these are not alternative facts. Exercise improves the brain and there is strong evidence to suggest that it actually alters the brain in a positive manner.
Next trip you make, get up early and go for a run. Be it on the treadmill, in a local park or on a back road, run! If you can’t make that happen, Walk the last and first mile. (See my earlier post to understand what I mean)
Move and not only will your body thank you for it, but so will your brain.
As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts!