Most people hold the belief that exercise will help you get more focused. But does science hold this as true? Or do people simply feel more focused from exercise because they anticipate they’ll feel more focused? In this chapter we’ll look into exercise and its effects on the human body.
Ok, so here’s what we know about mice
Researchers at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan found that if you allow laboratory mice to run as much as it likes, its brainpower improves. And if you force it to run harder than it naturally would, its thinking and focus improves even more.
The mice who were forced to run harder than they naturally would displayed evidence of molecular changes in several portions of their brains. The mice who ran natural rate showed changes in only one area of their brains. Regardless of the type of exercise, one thing happened when they exercised: there were new developments in the brain.
This poses as evidence that exercise does change the brain of mice. But does it change the brains of humans, and how so?
Wanna Grow Some Brain Cells?
Recently Scott Small, of Columbia University, and Fred Gage, of the Salk Institute, found that exercise’s impact on the brain was much more powerful than simply increasing blood flow to the brain cells.
Here’s what happens when you exercise:
- As you exercise, your muscles contract.
- This releases chemicals, including a protein called IGF-1.
- IGF-1 travels to the brain and stimulates the release of several chemicals, including brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF).
- Regular exercise increases levels of BDNF.
- BDNF stimulates neurons (brain cells) to branch and connect in new ways.
- New junctions between neurons are the basis of learning.
This release takes a couple hours to kick in. But guess what doesn’t take much time to kick in? The ability to concentrate and focus.
The creation of new brain cells is not only critical in terms of becoming more focused, but also preventing depression. In a neuroscience article by Gretchen Vogel, she finds that a slowdown in brain cell growth may be linked to depression.
John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School declares, “Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being.”
The findings above are rather convincing, especially if you look into the scope of work conducted by John J. Ratey, Scott Small and Fred Gage.
Ok, so it’s becoming clear that exercise is good for focus, but what kind of exercise, and what type? Read below:
How To Exercise in Order to Increase Focus:
- Rule #1: Do not over-train
- Rule #2: Do not over-train
- Rule #3: John J. Ratey (mentioned above) recommends 8-12 minutes of exercise per day
- Rule #4: Balance is key. Balance cardio, weight-training and stretching exercises (like Yoga)
Why don’t you want to over-train? I mean, come on, the mice in the first example showed increased brain activity when they were pushed harder in their exercise, right?
Here’s why: As soon as you push yourself beyond a certain limit, your alertness will significantly drop.
The Bottom Line
Science supports the finding that exercise helps the mind focus–of mice and men. Seriously, Lenny.
So, there’s really not much more to say. Exercise equals increased brain power and focus. Not a bad way to start off the day.
Further reading, sources and resources:
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
- What sort of exercise can make you smarter?
- Train Your Brain With Exercise
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