Build a brighter brain and cut mental distractions
Concentration is becoming a lost art. Distractions at work almost guarantee that our thinking will be interrupted by emails, open plan offices and conflicting priorities. There is a lot of debate about whether or not the internet is causing distracted and unfocused thinking. Our brains are constantly affected and changed by our experience. However, there is a simpler underlying explanation as well. It is one that is far easier to affect. It is physical exercise and regular movement.
There is no doubt that walking has an extraordinary effect on our brain. Research has shown that walking briskly for a little as twice a week will get results. Walk for up to 15 Ks a week and the results will surprise you. Strangely, walking further doesn’t seem to have a greater impact.
What can we expect by starting to walk regularly?
- The risk of Alzheimer’s is cut by 60% and more general dementia by 50%
- The risk of stroke is cut by 57%
- New brain cells emerge (neurogenesis) and new connections are created.
- The brain becomes sharper and faster – fluid intelligence increases, and so does memory. This counters the usual decrease in these functional capacities with age.
- Focus and attention increase making concentration easier.
- Mental health is protected and improved. Walking increases the production of the three critical neurotransmitters that are responsible for preventing anxiety and depression (serotonin, dopamine and nor epinephrine).
Exercise keeps the brain alert – we were not designed to sit still for long periods. Computers and TV have introduced a habit of sitting for hours at a time and it has been damaging our physical and mental health. No wonder we struggle to think clearly, have insights or even maintain concentration.
Want to do it? It is easy to develop new habits. Here are some practical ideas to build into your day:
- Get up from your computer or TV every 30 minutes and stretch or walk around.
- Try a walking meeting. This idea was shared by the HR team at Fonterra who hold walking meetings whenever they can to get away from the distractions of the office. Walking stimulates the brain, so this leads to good thinking too. Obviously, this is most useful for meetings of a few people and the Fonterra offices are in a pretty part of town, but they also use a walk followed but a meeting at a local café.
- Control your devices, don’t let them control you! Switch off the mobile for a couple of hours of quiet time each day. You will get used to being able to focus without interruptions and others will understand if you explain. Leave your mobile in the office when you go for a walk.
- Always go out for lunch and walk.
- When possible, use the stairs instead of the lift, walk or cycle to work rather than use the car.
In general, plan exercise into your day and make it a habit
Be conscious of how long you sit at the computer or in front of the TV – if necessary, keep a log for a few days – if you are like me you’ll be horrified.
Keep moving and stay healthy. More importantly, you will be able to concentrate and focus on the work that needs focus. The bonus is that you will also be preventing dementia, avoiding depression and getting better as you get older!
If anyone has any other ideas for keeping moving – please share them.
All of the above data is researched and peer reviewed. It is available in the excellent book by John Medina ‘Brain Rules’.
By Janis Grummitt
Read more from Janis and building a better brain here.