We all know that exercise is physically good for us, that we should be taking a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week as recommended by the World Health Association https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/. This can help prevent modern lifestyle diseases, such as Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which as a result of the growing epidemic of obesity is increasing throughout the modern world.

Research is highlighting and supporting just how beneficial exercise is not only for our bodies but also for our minds and overall happiness. Psychiatrist, John Ratey in his book, ‘Spark! How exercise will improve the performance of your brain'(2008), (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spark-revolutionary-science-exercise-brain/dp/1849161577) identifies how a group of proteins, specifically one known a ‘brain-derived neurotropic factor (BNDF) is crucial for building and maintaining the infrastructure of our brains. Studies have shown that exercising increases the levels of BDNF in our brains and therefore our potential for learning. Ratey describes it as ‘Miracle Gro’ for the brain a ‘ crucial biological link between thought, emotions and movement’.

Studies have consistently shown that children who do more aerobic exercise improve in maths, literacy, problem solving and creativity. At the other end of the age spectrum, it has been consistently found that older adults who are physically active have better cognitive functioning and are less likely to experience cognitive decline, dementia or Alzheimer’s. So, taking your early morning walk or run, really does set you up for a more productive day of learning or output at work.

How does this work on a practical level?

High-intensity aerobic exercise has been found to be the most beneficial in terms of the laying down of BDNF in our brains and therefore improving our potential for learning. What counts as high-intensity exercise will vary for each individual, for some, it may be a brisk walk or cycle, for others, it could be a 5km run or hi-intensity aerobic class. It really depends on your initial level of fitness. Using a heart rate monitor as a tool to monitor intensity is a great way of getting the maximum of your workout. It can help you to set your heart rate working range and determine what your high-intensity exercise range is. (I’ll be covering this in another blog).

Daily exercise conveys the most benefits regarding the laying down of BDNF, however, high-intensity exercise on a daily basis is not something that is either sustainable or even desirable initially. It places increased stress on our body’s structures, both physiological and biomechanical. These physical adaptations take time for the body to make and must be developed gradually. Mixing high intensity with more moderate exercise, once or twice per week, allows the body to recover from the extra demands placed upon it and adapt accordingly. It will also make it more likely that the exercise habit will be maintained. As with all exercise programmes, it is always best to clear it with your doctor before embarking on a new regime.

Tips for beginning to move more.
Vanessa King in her book ’10 Keys for Happier Living’ (2016), (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Keys-Happier-Living-Vanessa-King/dp/1472233425 ) lists ten useful pointers for beginning to move more and maintaining the habit.

  1. Start slow and small – walking more is the easiest way to increase your activity level, ditch the car and walk to the local shop, walk up the escalator or stairs to your work etc. Keep it simple, as in my previous blog make the goal specific and attainable. Reset your goal as you achieve it.
  2. Keep the end (or middle) in mind – focus on how you will feel when you finish exercising rather than the beginning. Positive thoughts and feelings about exercise will impact your likelihood of doing it in the future.
  3. Break it Up – dividing the total amount of time you need to exercise daily into more manageable chunks, i.e. 10-minute slots, makes it easier to fit into your busy day. For example, two x 15 minute walks to and from the station.
  4. Walk, think, talk – Use the time to do something else as well, listen to a podcast talk, have a walking meeting, call your mum!
  5. Prepare to avoid excuses – put yourself in a situation where you are unable to avoid exercising. For example, leave your work clothes at the office and have your exercise clothes ready to jump into by your bed, make an appointment with a trainer or prepay for a class, money is a great motivator!
  6. Be social – it’s far more enjoyable to exercise with others. Join a club or regularly meet with friends to provide motivation and make it fun!
  7. Enjoy yourself – find something that you enjoy doing. Not everyone wants to belong to a gym. whether it is a rambling club, outdoor tai chi or Zumba there are many ways to increase movement levels.
  8. Do it outside – exercising outside can have added positive effects on our psychological wellbeing by changing our surroundings and getting out into fresh air.
  9. Keeping tabs can keep you going – there are many apps and other forms of technology that allow you to monitor your activity levels. Even if you aren’t able to exercise in a group or with friends, apps such as Strava (https://www.strava.com) or Runkeeper (https://runkeeper.com) allow you to join a group and keep the motivation going by checking in with other exercisers.
  10. Sit Less – Sitting for long periods of time can increase risks of lifestyle diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Take a look at my blog below and tips that can help you to reduce this.