Most of us spend the majority of our days in our heads, thinking, strategizing, and literally not moving. I can recall a time when I was working in a satellite office and the lights suddenly went off. I realized that all of the lights were on motion detectors and as far as the room was concerned, no one was there. My only movements were probably my fingertips typing away at the keyboard. Our bodies and minds are connected and this is not just some new age, woo-woo thing. When I coach people I often have them recognize what’s going on in their bodies because, brain research now reveals that our bodies pick up on signals first and then we interpret the meaning intellectually. The more we are aware of our bodies, the faster we can recognize what’s happening, intersect the fight/flight response and lead in a more calm, powerful way.
Patty Onderko explores the idea that exercise can “rebuild, strengthen and fortify our muscles and brains” in her article, You^n, which appeared in the June 2015 edition of Success. An exciting study out of Sweden found a direct link between fitness level and IQ. The study followed more than 1 million men as they aged between 15 and 55. As they aged, the men who improved their fitness also improved their IQ and IQ was lowered in the men with a decrease in fitness. The question, then, is how can you more consciously care for your body in order to better serve your brain? We all know exercise and diet are essential but let’s get even more basic. If you simply focus on walking and resting more, you will see both short term and long term positive effects on your “mood, memory, performance, creativity, and motivation.” In his book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, Dr. Norman Doidge argues this point by telling the story of man who literally walked away his debilitating Parkinson symptoms. The man walked several miles every other day while focusing closely on his movements and was able to create new neural pathways reversing his crippling symptoms. This is why walking is so powerful. It taps into our primal survival instincts as it was primitively critical in finding food and fleeing from predators. “Doidge recommends walking fast enough to break a sweat and doing it outside where we are exposed to changing landscapes and obstacles as often as possible.”
Taking a break is equally important to brain development. Neuroscience research shows that memory is boosted when you take a period of rest after learning something new. This is called “spaced learning patterns” and it is critical in giving your brain time to process new information and to commit it to your long term memory. Getting enough sleep is crucial in giving your brain time to flush itself. Scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the channels between a mouse’s neurons expand up to 60% during sleep allowing for “an influx of cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain, clearing out neurotoxic waste at a much faster rate than awake mice.” In fact, it has long been believed that sleep deprivation was a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease but instead is now considered a contributing cause.
So how can we incorporate this important research into our workplace? Try going out of your way to build movement into your day… take the stairs, park in the furthest parking spot. Some managers even ask their staff to store walking shoes in the office and walk around the building during their one-on-one meetings. Experiment with your sleep. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night for a week. The paradox is that we demonstrate more productivity when we allow ourselves to slow down. And, just by reading this blog, you gave yourself a brain break, so congratulations; you’re well on your way.