I read an article about Exercise and focus, and thought it very interesting, I may not be going to the pool at the moment but am enjoying the e.bike and the “Bring Sally Up” challenge! Even just doing that and not the bike has been a good thing this week! I don’t think we have to be “gym bunnies” to enjoy exercise – a simple walk and we benefit from fresh air, a change of scene and indeed not thinking about anything inparticular!
Since starting to write this I have had a few “off colour” days – they happen and I give in and don’t do so much – and kind of feel relieved that I am not doing my “marathon distance swim” as those hours out of the water, would have eaten into the time, and I would be so cross about not achieving what I set out to do! However rather than thinking of what I should be doing I found other ways to compensate for not spending half an hour on the bike etc….improvised the squats, did something else instead that wasn’t so “glow making” and gave myself a break for a couple of days!
Over the years I have grown to love exercise, it’s not a punishment, it’s not about abusing the body to become “a perfect machine” it’s about being strong mentally, motivation and happiness, it’s also really, very much for our health and wellbeing on so many levels, and let’s face it right now – we need something else in our day to think about!
Three minutes to feel focused, happier and a little bit motivated to get on with the day – yes please….sometimes it takes longer to think of excuses NOT to do something, that’s from someone that has “been there” believe me! And somedays that is still me but then I remember how I felt the day before, so I enjoy getting in the zone now!
What exercise can do!
The benefits of exercise go beyond physical health, and it could be the key to better problem-solving. Even taking a break for a quick walk could be enough to help you focus on complex tasks at work or school. Adding mindfulness to that movement may be the catalyst to performing at your best.
A literature review suggests exercise can increase our focus and problem-solving capacity for up to two hours.
Only a few minutes of movement is needed to see a difference.
In order to be most effective, a recovery period is required between exercise and a mental task.
Taking a few minutes to exercise may be just what the doctor ordered. A systematic review published in the journal Translational Sports Medicine found that as little as two minutes of exercise can temporarily boost memory.
Longer periods of exercise (around 60 minutes) can improve cognitive function for up to two hours afterwards.
The review examined 13 studies and 10 years’ worth of data that showed the impact of movement on young adults ages 18 to 35. The forms of exercise measured were running, biking, and walking, and they were performed for up to an hour. The results showed that moderate and high intensity exercise improved memory, problem-solving, and concentration.
These changes can last up to two hours, and researchers noted that a short recovery—just five minutes—is an important transition that could help in tackling a mental task.
This leads co-author Peter Blomstrand, MD, PhD, to conclude: “Exercise makes you smart.”
Exercise Changes Your Brain Functions
Previous research on children has connected exercise to decreased gray matter thickness in the superior frontal cortex. Thinning in that area was associated with improved mathematical ability. Other studies have shown that exercise increases blood flow to the brain, leading to increased neuroplastic function in the hippocampus and better memory function in people of all ages.
The benefits of exercise on mental health have been studied since the ’70s, and it has been prescribed as a preventative and management tool for those diagnosed with mental health conditions like depression. While exercise is not a cure for mental health issues, it is often used as a means of controlling symptoms.
It is recommended that everyone get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week for physical health, and though there isn’t a set amount of time suggested for mental health, the belief is that even small amounts of physical activity can make a difference!
Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD, a proponent of exercise, even in small doses, says that many of his clients find it helpful for focus. He explains, “Twenty to thirty minutes a day of intense exercise can serve as an antidepressant and can rapidly increase positive feelings by activating the release of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.” Furthermore, he explains that anxiety decreases if you increase your heart rate to 70% of your maximum rate based on age.
Exercise and Mindfulness Go a Long Way
Developing a daily practice of mindfulness helps you cultivate the skill of focusing the mind which you can then use when you are exercising and this can improve performance.
— JEFFREY COHEN, PSYD
To incorporate mindfulness into your workout, Cohen gives these recommendations:
Notice the breath and the physical sensations you are experiencing. This could be internal experiences or external cues like hearing and sight.
If your mind wanders, that’s ok. Just notice where it went and see if you can refocus and come back to what is happening inside of you and outside of you.
Multitasking is the opposite of being mindful, so consider leaving your headphones at home and just focus on the sounds of your body and your surroundings.
Notice if your breath changes as you exercise or if your muscles become tense. Try to notice without judgment. Just observe thoughts as thoughts and then bring yourself back to your bodily sensations and your surroundings.
You could choose to focus on a specific part of the body such as the foot as a way to stay anchored in the here and now. What sensations do you observe in your toes, on the sole of your foot, or up the ankle? This practice increases awareness, which could impact overall performance.
The most important advice, “Remember that the practice of mindfulness includes listening to your body and the information it is communicating. If you notice discomfort, maybe your body is telling you to slow down or stop for the day.”
So whatever you choose to do, embrace the fact that can enjoy as little as a few minutes a day or as much as a couple of hours a day, to just give yourself that energy boost that you may benefit from in many, many ways.
*Always drink water before, during and after any work out*!
Did anyone see Great Canal Journey’s with Shelia Hancock and Gyles Brandreth – I have to say what an inspiring lady, Sheila is…she is 87 and was told she had Rheumatoid Arthiritis 3 years ago – so what does she do everyday – exercise, which includes stretching because that helps the pains that she suffers! My Mum is the same – she would rather keep on the go rather than giving in and not doing anything, so yes if it means that the exercises we do now – help in the future another good reason to try!