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Are you making exercise non-negotiable? Before you skip a workout, remember that exercise is the key to a healthy brain.
When I first start working with my executive coaching clients, before we dive into proven neuroscience-based tools that will help them with their challenges, I ask them “Do you have an exercise routine?” Executives and leaders need to consistently exercise. Why? The benefits go beyond looking and feeling great – exercise is the key to a healthy and happy brain. Our brains love exercise!
Why Your Brain Needs You To Get Up And Get Moving
A big indicator of my clients’ success in stepping up their leadership is whether they have an existing exercise practice or are willing to start one. The great news is that it’s never too late to start.
According to the American Heart Association: “Sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950; physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of our workforce. In 1960, about half of the U.S. workforce was physically active. Our average workweek is longer. Full-time workers in the U.S. work about 47 hours working each week – that’s more than 350 extra hours worked each year.”
Does this sound familiar? How much physical activity does your job promote? Why is this important?
Exercise Increases Executive Cognitive Function And Brain Growth
A study was conducted to examine the effect of a session of acute aerobic exercise on working memory task-evoked brain activity as well as task performance. This study found that: moderate acute aerobic exercise increases both working memory and cortical hemodynamic responses in the prefrontal cortex. With an emphasis on other executive controls (e.g., interference), similar results were also observed, including improved behavioral performance following a short session of aerobic exercise, with the right frontopolar area specifically being activated. These findings suggest that these specific brain cortexes play vital roles in the alteration of executive function induced by acute exercise.
Exercise also grows new brain cells, known as neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells. A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience confirmed that: Running exercise (RE) improves new memory formation along with an increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Yes this study was conducted on rats and we are not rats, however, rat brains are similar to our brains.
What Does This Mean For Executives And Leaders?
When we exercise:
• The hippocampus, a part of the brain concerned with learning and memory, grows in size with regular exercise over time.
• Norepinephrine is released, improving attention, perception, and motivation
• Hormones combine with BDNF to grow brain cells, regulate mood and provide mental clarity
The area of the brain that was being examined in the first study can be referred to as the “frontal executive network system.” This is where proactive planning, time management, our ability to focus, set goals and think clearly happens. We want to increase blood flow to this area of our brain and engaging in aerobic activity will do just that. Higher level thinking skills empower an executive to increase their focus, increase their cognitive flexibility and think faster. The second study shows that exercise will directly impact our ability to grow new brain cells and increase short-term and long-term memory.
Increased focus, clarity and executive thinking combined with new brain cells and improved short-term and long-term memory are critical for leadership success and excellence.
Extra Exercise Goodies
Here are a few extra goodies that implementing a consistent exercise routine will do for you.
1. Decrease Stress: The Mayo Clinic confirms that virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. Being active will boost your feel-good endorphins and help you manage and decrease your stress.
2. Increase Energy: According to the University of Georgia, sedentary people who regularly complain of fatigue can increase their energy levels by 20 percent and decrease their fatigue by 65 percent by engaging in regular exercise.
3. Boost Your Mood: Combine exercise with a mindfulness practice. This re-grooves the brain and builds a new neurological network. Do it enough and, like the studies show, you can train your brain like a muscle to become or stay calm and present in the face of adversity. When we exercise, serotonin is released and that enhances our mood.
4. Improve Sleep: A full night’s sleep improves your ability to regulate emotions. Period. People sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Exercise Is Non-Negotiable
When you make a commitment to your team and to your customers – do you always follow through? Great leaders will automatically say yes, their word is their bond. It is just as important to make a commitment to yourself and your health.
How much exercise is the ‘right amount of exercise? The AHA recommends: At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week for a total of 150 minutes OR at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. They also recommend moderate- to high-intensity muscle strengthening activity at least two days per week for additional health benefits. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting your new exercise routine. These recommended amounts are consistent with the optimal amounts of exercise needed to benefit your brain.
If this seems overwhelming, begin by making a commitment to move for a specific amount of time each day. Start with 30-minutes as your foundation and create a routine that works for you. You don’t have to run a marathon on day one, try walking around the block or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Another tip is to get an accountability partner, for me, that’s my personal trainer. I’ve invested in her expertise and I honor her time and commitment to my health – it keeps me on track. Honor your commitment to yourself because in the end, your team, your business, and your bottom line will benefit.