Active Body: Active Mind

19th December 2017

Almost everyone experiences brain fog from time to time. You know the feeling when your mind is cloudy, you can’t stay focused on the task in hand, you’re easily distracted and can’t maintain your train of thought? Peter Gaffney, of mobile personal training company PGPT, has a really simple solution to the problem: exercise.

On the days when I have already done some exercise, I’m always aware that I feel more attentive, more creative and definitely more productive when it comes to writing or even just admin work. The same applies to everyone from archivist to zoologist: exercise goes a long way towards helping improve your mental performance throughout the day, thanks to a few simple but helpful benefits.

Firstly, exercise is key in cutting out what I like to call the ‘noise’. In this age of technology, there is so much external stimulation from the internet, social media, television and advertising at home and on your daily commute, that the overwhelming feeling is of information overload.

It can feel as though it’s impossible to escape –but spending even as few as thirty minutes a day putting your phone on silent, leaving the house or office and going to a gym or exercise class is an excellent way to separate your mind from this noise, and clear your thoughts. You can use your time to concentrate on things that matter, such as home life and work, or make a conscious effort not to think of anything at all.

The most direct benefit of exercise is to get your blood pumping and muscles working, which has the same effect on your mind as on your body. The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a chemical released into the brain when your body is in motion, and has been scientifically proven to stimulate and sharpen your mental reflexes, memory and concentration. In addition, the release of natural painkillers and reward hormones – and the increased heart rate resulting from exercise – can seriously improve your mood.

Exercising during the day can also make it easier to feel appropriately tired and ready for bed in the evening, resulting in a more peaceful sleep and an improved feeling of invigoration in the morning.

The final thing I’ve found wonderful for increasing mental energy is the exposure to fresh air that you can experience during outdoor exercise. Similar to the benefits you can gain from distancing yourself from technology, getting outside is a great way to clear your mind and focus on the singular act of your exercise. Whether you’re taking in the weather and scenery along a run or simply doing a stationary workout in a peaceful place like a park, getting a breath of air while exercising is an easy and natural way to relax your mind and body.

The key thing about managing to exercise is planning ahead. As the saying goes, failure to plan is a plan to fail. In most jobs, you have a diary, journal or schedule where you keep track of meetings, deadlines and important dates. So why should your exercise be any different? Take the time to sit down and assess your week, month or, in the first few days of January, year. See where in your daily routine you can arrange time to exercise, making sure to keep up regular sessions so that your fitness stays consistent or even grows over time, and the mental and physical benefits continue to accumulate.

With tight availability in your schedule for exercise, the benefits of short, intense sessions cannot be underestimated. If you’re struggling to train regularly, high-intensity exercise done infrequently can still be incredibly beneficial for your health and fitness. Not only that, but these kinds of training sessions are often very quick to do, so they’re perfect for people who are pushed for time. There’s no sense in adding to your stress by planning in sessions that you can’t possibly hope to achieve, but working out how to manage your time effectively (and then doing it!) can make you feel very good about yourself indeed. Most of us spend our mornings getting an extra 20 minutes in bed, rushing through our routines with just enough time to make it to work for 9am, and arriving exhausted. However, getting to bed earlier at night (no, really; try it) and rising an hour or so earlier than you’re used to can mean that you then make free time in the mornings to exercise before work. Not only is this a great use of time and an excellent way to answer how to fit in exercise with a busy schedule, but exerting yourself in the morning will make you feel energised and alert for the day to come.

Commuting by running, cycling or even walking can kill two birds with one stone in this respect, as it allows you to exercise out in the open during your journey to or from work (not to mention beating the queues for the bus or the tube, and reducing the frustration of being stuckin traffic in the car). A survey taken in 2015 revealed that people working in London use a week’s worth of hours on their commute every year. Think of all that wasted time and potential.

If you can commit to at least 30 minutes of exercise every morning, you’re almost certain to find that you experience a great boost to your concentration, productivity and alertness during a hectic working day. Mental performance is a big part of any job: anything that improves your motivation and general well-being has to be a good thing.

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