March 23, 2017
Like the vast majority of us, I used to have a fickle relationships with exercise; on the one hand I knew that regular exercise could help me achieve my weight and strength goals. But on the other hand, exercise wasn’t always fun – especially when it involved dragging myself out of bed at six a.m. on cold, rainy mornings. There were some days when the dream of a better body just wasn’t enough to outweigh the literal pains of working out.
But what I started to realize is that working out offered so many benefits beyond appearances; sure it’s nice to meet your goal weight and maintain a healthy BMI, but the mental benefits of exercise proved to be even more enticing. On the days where I pressed my snooze button instead of jumping out of bed to pull on my sneakers, I found myself lethargic, unfocused, and more irritable. But on the days when I looked past the temporary inconvenience of trekking to the gym at six a.m., I found my energy and focus to be boundless throughout the day. This wasn’t just an ongoing coincidence; exercise didn’t just change my body, it changed my brain.
So if you’re anything like I was and struggling to make fitness a regular part of your schedule, maybe it’s time to look beyond the physical benefits, and instead, focus on the cognitive ones. Here are just a few of the ways that exercise increased my productivity ten-fold.
There are two common denominators that reach across every vertical in today’s professional landscape: overworking and fatigue. Yes, across every industry it seems as though people are working more, sleeping less, and burning out faster. Many professionals rely on a steady drip of caffeine and sugar just to make it through the work day. But this routine can lead to adrenal fatigue and regular sugar crashes. Following a regular exercise regime is one of the best ways to holistically beat fatigue for the long haul. Although, it might seem like exercise depletes your body of existing energy stores, but recent studies show it enhances feelings of energy and diminishes feelings of fatigue.
Technology was designed to make our lives easier, in many ways, it makes focusing increasingly difficult; our brains constantly have to jump back and forth between screens and various projects. Though you might not be able to turn your smartphone off as a deadline approaches, there are habits you can take on to help you maintain focus throughout the day, including exercise.
Exercise is one of the best means of increasing mental focus because it has the potential to sustain your focus for the long-term, not just in short bursts like caffeine. Exercise has been proven to increase happiness, improve sleep, and reduce stress – which are all common perpetrators of lack of focus.
Have you ever had one of those days where you started working on the same project over and over again, not remembering where you last left off? You may have chalked the brain funk up to lack of sleep or stress, but lack of exercise may have also had something to do with it. According to researchers at Harvard, exercise stimulates brain regions that control memory function and release a brain-derived neurotrophic factor which rewires memory circuits for optimal performance. Exercise forces you to use more brain cells, which in turn, amps up the production of BDNF.
In addition to filling your diet with superfoods, instead of sugar and processed foods, exercise is an important, though often overlooked, component of mental health and performance. Even though you might have the best of intentions, it can be difficult to stick with exercise goals when life gets in the way. But as you’ve now seen, sticking to a workout plan isn’t just crucial if you want to fit into your favorite pair of skinny jeans, it’s crucial to maintain high quality performance in your job.
One of the best ways to start incorporating exercise into your life is to make a specific goal; maybe you’d like to workout three times a week before heading into the office, or sign for for at least two yoga classes in the evening. Be realistic with yourself – you don’t have to dive in and start training for a marathon immediately. Any consistent commitment to regular exercise will enhance your overall physical and mental health.
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