What’s your solution to the mid-afternoon blahs when you’re fresh out of ideas and energy and work is piled up on your desk? Caffeine? Sugar (please, no!). Part of the problem of that daily slump is too much sitting. Just getting up and strolling around the office could rev you up for the rest of the workday, but research tells us that if you need inspiration, fresh ideas or even the mental energy to complete the work on your desk, the answer is exercise.
You may not be able to take a mid-afternoon exercise break, but what about your lunch hour? Moving your body benefits your brain. The secret is the blood flow exercise generates – it goes to your head where it can nourish a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF for short) that gets those neurons in gear so that you’re better able to problem solve, strategize and absorb new information.
Research suggests that you can get this brain boost with only 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. (To calculate that subtract your age from 220 and then multiply by .60 to .70.)
Charles Hillman, a professor at the University of Illinois has shown in studies that just 20 minutes on a treadmill can boost the brain’s processing speed enough to help us deal with information faster and perform better at cognitive tasks.
Set Your Mind at Rest
If you really want to clear your head while you exercise, the trick is to tune out the world for the duration. That means no reading on the treadmill or stationary bike, no playing games, catching up on the news on TV or focusing your attention on your surroundings. The objective is to rest your mind – give it a breather from all the stimulation in our environment. Your best bet for this is to escape into a natural setting. The Attention Restoration Theory holds that a walk in the woods helps refocus the mind. That may not be possible on your lunch break, but you get the idea – even a brief escape into nature can benefit your problem-solving skills. A University of Michigan study found that students improved by 20 percent on a memory test after a walk around an arboretum. Another group of students who walked on a busy city street instead didn’t improve at all when they re-took the test
If you can’t schedule lunch hour aerobic exercise, you might also give your mind a rest and a boost with a yoga session. Research at the University of Illinois found that 20 minutes of Hatha yoga significantly improved participants’ speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and inhibitory control, two measures of brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information.
So there you have it – to clear your head and re-invigorate your brain, do something with the rest of your body. It’s the Brain Warrior Way!