“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s time to get serious about being fit for work.
It’s no secret. Staying physically fit is essential to provide the stamina and wellbeing required to stay at the top of your game. It also enhances brain health and function, boosting memory, cognition, and mood, reducing stress and promoting better sleep. In other words it is critical to better thinking. It's physical activity that gets business moving.
From an individual perspective, staying on the move increases cerebral blood-flow supplying essential oxygen and nutrients to the energy hungry brain along with the release of brain chemicals including BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that nurture neuronal health, synaptic function and neurogenesis — the production and survival of approximately 700 new neurons every day.
Regular exercise has been shown to maintain white matter integrity, promoting speed of information processing, improving cognitive performance and reducing stress. Chronic severe stress reduces access to the prefrontal cortex, the executive suite of conscious thought, and is associated with loss of brain volume in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol are potentially neurotoxic, best avoided using regular exercise.
Stand up for your brain and walk the walk
CEOs can lead the charge by encouraging the move to stand more. Walking meetings as advocated by Nilofer Merchant provides the opportunity not only to get out into some fresh air, it boosts attention, promotes more open dialogue, and is particularly useful for one on one conversations.
For larger groups standing meetings work well by keeping focus on the agenda and shorter — a bonus for busy executives seeking to maximize the value of their time spent at work.
Create new insight
Walking stimulates creativity whether inside or out. While spending time in green space is great for stress reduction, walking anywhere has been shown to get those creative juices flowing, stimulating greater insight and problem solving, thereby giving your ideas some legs.
Boost your mood
The neuropeptides of a positive mood including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are all enhanced by physical activity. This promotes adaptability, a more open mind, and a willingness to take on and overcome challenges, as well as promoting mental wellbeing.
Give your brain a break
Focusing your attention for too long is cognitively exhausting and denies the brain the time required to recoup and reenergize. Implementing several 15-minute brain breaks across the day in addition to taking a proper lunch break away from the office, to eat and include a workout, primes your brain for improved mental performance and mood across the afternoon.
Take time out to learn a new sport
Taking up a new sport in midlife has been shown to stimulate cognitive performance. Signing up for paddleboard lessons, tennis or snow boarding is great for increasing grey and white matter because the complex thoughts required drive your brain's plasticity. It's the learning that counts, not how good you are at it.
Do the Downward Dog
If running or walking isn't your thing, yoga has been shown to boost cognitive function. Yoga’s meditative quality calms the mind and stimulates the mind-body connection. While an aerobic session will always boost cognitive performance, somewhat surprisingly a 20-minute Hatha Yoga session will produce a more immediate benefit to cognition.
From a business health perspective, encouraging all your staff to stay active will help reduce some of the economic burden of physical inactivity. A recent article in The Lancet estimated the global cost of inactivity, based on data from 142 countries, to be around US$67.5 billion, equivalent as the authors point out, to the total annual GDP of Costa Rica.
Taking the lead to incorporate greater physical activity in your business has the potential to increase productivity, performance and wellbeing and boost the bottom line.