Imagine you own a machine that produces money. It spits out cash at regular intervals and provides your income. How important would it be to you to make sure that machine is well-oiled and maintained and running smoothly and at its highest capacity?
Imagine that machine is also powerful enough to help you achieve your life’s goals. Now you’d really be sure to protect it and keep it operating as productively as possible.
Your brain is your money maker and your goal getter.
Two obvious facts:
1) To be as successful as possible you need to make good decisions.
2) The engine that produces those good decisions is your brain.
So it stands to reason that if you want to be successful on your life’s journey you need your brain working at its best. To do that you have to pay more attention to the scientifically proven best practices for keeping your brain performing at peak levels.
Though it naturally shrinks with aging, your brain has the ability to grow and change. Studies show that brain degradation can be slowed and even reversed in some cases by implementing lifestyle choices that improve its health.
The majority of the practices that we know improve heart health and overall physical well-being are also great for the brain, such as healthy eating, ample sleep, plentiful hydration, and regular exercise. In this article we will focus on the exercise component.
When we think of the brain and exercise we tend to think of mental exercise, such as games, puzzles, reading, and problem solving. Those are terrific for helping to maintain brain health (Chess is a great IQ booster). However, physical exercise has an even greater impact on the health of your brain and there is increasing research that confirms just how strong that connection is.
The hungry hungry hippo
The region of your brain called the hippocampus has a major role in learning and memory - key ingredients for peak decision performance. The fact that the hippocampus is “plastic” and susceptible to change is both a curse and a blessing. While it can be easily damaged, it can also be improved. Physical exercise can provide the fuel the hippocampus is hungry for to actually grow and improve your ability to retain information.
Other benefits of exercise on the brain include reducing stress, increasing mental energy, and staving off the degenerative effects of aging, including the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. It can also reduce your risk of stroke.
How much? What kind?
Any amount of exercise is better than none at all, but adding intensity and resistance can increase the benefits to your brain. A word of caution - do not implement any new physical activity regimen without consulting your doctor, especially if it is a vast increase in intensity.
While resistance (weight) training is beneficial, the biggest brain boost comes from increasing cardiovascular fitness.
In his book, Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance, Majid Fotuhi recommends slowly increasing your activity, one week at a time. Schedule time for walks or runs, 20-30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week, depending on your current level of activity.
Also, keep activity top of mind so that you can take advantage of opportunities throughout your day to get in more activity - take the stairs, walk to lunch, or park at the back of the parking lot.
If you are currently quite active, focus on at least five days of aerobic activity for at least five days a week. He also recommends adding high-intensity training - short bursts of vigorous exercise during the last fifteen minutes of your routine. Again, proceed with caution and with the approval of a professional trainer or doctor.
Any substantial change requires:
1) a commitment to the change
2) a system to put the change in place
3) habits to make it stick.
Take the time to plan your approach to getting more exercise and get moving.
Your decision engine will pay you back.
Think well and be well!
- Steve Haffner, decision performance expert
Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?
Click here for my free book, 7 Strategies for Making Better Decisions