‘The Best Prescription for Mental Speed and Clarity’ by Dr Jenny Brockis was originally published in Great Health Guide in February 2016 and is part of the GHG ‘Best of 2016’ series. Dr Brockis explains how simply adding more movement into your day, you can acquire an overall better mindset. Use these tips to work toward a healthier lifestyle in 2017!
Read other Mindset articles on Great Health Guide, a hub of expert-inspired resources empowering busy women to embody health beyond image … purpose beyond measure.
The Best Prescription for Mental Speed and Clarity
written by Dr Jenny Brockis
It’s well recognised that our degree of mental sharpness can diminish a little as we age. Sometimes we worry that those annoying memory lapses and tip of the tongue moments might reflect something else, something more sinister.
We often first notice these changes when we are in our forties and fifties, the slippery slope of mental slowdown starts far earlier. We are at our cognitive peak around the age of 24! If this birthday has long since passed, despair not, because there is one very important and powerful way you can maintain and enhance your mental prowess at any age.
This activity is readily available and only requires a small amount of time from our day. People who engage with this activity enjoy greater vitality, energy, happiness and enhanced mental performance. It’s the one activity that if prescribed more frequently, could lead to a significant reduction in the prevalence of many of the chronic medical diseases we see today – hypertension, type two diabetes, heart disease, depression and cognitive decline.
It may not be sexy, but exercise is the best workout for our body and brain. Aerobic exercise in particular primes our brain for best performance by stimulating cerebral blood flow and the release of certain growth factors including BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor).
Want your own FREE COPY of Great Health Guide
& delivered to your inbox each month?
Look to your right…
Kids who exercise regularly by running round the school oval before class have been shown to perform better academically, are more attentive in class, exhibit fewer behavioural problems and get higher grades. Dr. John Ratey in his book Spark calls BDNF ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain because it helps to strengthen synaptic connections and stimulates neurogenesis; the production of the 700 of so new neurons we produce each day. Our hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning is one area that can produce new neurons.
Exercise reduces brain shrinkage
Our brains shrink with age, but unlike our favourite cashmere sweater put through a hot wash, the shrinkage is slight and can be minimised by, yes you guessed it, indulging in some regular exercise.
Studies have shown that brisk walking three times a week for 30 minutes will boost memory and reduce brain shrinkage.
Overall the aim is to undertake 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week, though the good news is that interval training, which takes up far less time works too.
Is there a best time to exercise?
The benefit to our thinking skills follows exercise. Ideally the perfect time is before work, but if your schedule doesn’t allow for that, lunch-time or after work is fine too. Just try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime as paradoxically you may find it harder to get to sleep, though overall regular exercise helps promote a better sleep pattern.
Which is the best form of exercise?
Brains benefit from all kinds of physical activity, so don’t be shy in trying something new. Cross training where you have to coordinate your movements with an exercise such as dancing – ballroom, hip-hop, rap or ballet are all ideal. Going to the gym, cycling, running and swimming are all great forms of exercise as well – just take your pick.
Our brain performs best when we move, so while it might be tempting to stay chained to your desk to finish off that document you’ve been working on the last couple of hours, you are much better off to take a brain break, get up and stretch to reinvigorate your attention and decision making.
This is why more workplaces are now introducing stand up desks, standing and walking meetings – to boost productivity and energy.
Could your mood do with a little pep?
Along with growth factors, exercise enhances the release of endorphins and dopamine that give us that ‘runner’s high’ and make us feel good. The simple act of engaging in regular exercise has helped modify the symptoms associated with mild depression. Exercise helps to burn off those stress hormones of excess cortisol and adrenaline, which can otherwise impair our ability to manage our emotions and think well. Whilst it can be harder to find the motivation to exercise especially when we are feeling down, getting started is the key to help lift your mood.
‘Sitting disease’ is now described as the ‘new smoking’. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is not only reducing our physical wellbeing, it reduces our cognition and is associated with increased levels of anxiety.
So look for incidental opportunities to stand up and move more, from parking your car further away from your destination to choosing to use the stairs rather than the elevator or standing when making or receiving a phone call.