movement and the mind

Here at Emerging Perspectives, we enjoy learning about the ways our brains and our nervous systems contribute to both personal and professional well-being. Understanding our “operating system” helps us create habits that align us with our goals and sense of purpose. Since each of us also values physical activity as a component of a meaningful life, it’s been exciting for us to follow the emerging research on the profound impact that exercise and movement can have on the brain. In this TED Talk, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki talks about why she believes that exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain. 
 
For years, researchers have touted the many physical benefits of exercise on the body. Now, the list of mental, cognitive, and emotional benefits is becoming extensive. For example, physical activity improves mood, focus, energy, memory, and reaction time. For most people, a single 10-minute walk releases mood-boosting chemicals in the brain and body. The American Psychiatric Association now even recommends exercise as a treatment for depression. Research has shown that thirty minutes of movement, including walking, dancing, swimming, running, or cycling can improve focus and other cognitive benefits for at least two hours after engaging in the exercise.  
 
The Body-Brain Connection
Our brains are constantly receiving signals from our bodies. As a result, physical activity can change the structure and function of the brain. Exercise and movement creates new brain cells in the hippocampus, which increases memory and promotes long lasting increases in good-mood neurotransmitters (a chemical that transmits nerve impulses in the brain). Physical activity also protects your brain as you age. Your pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus, the areas most susceptible to neuro-degenerative diseases and normal age-related decline, get bigger and stronger with exercise. In other words, exercise can help us create new brain cells and connections as we age rather than lose them.
 
While the benefits of sustained physical activity are clear, physical activity does not need to be aerobic to be beneficial. “Non-exercise” movements can help us be more mindful. It can balance our nervous systems, enhance our perspectives, and slow down our racing minds to help us be centered so that we can be more present in our interactions with life. We’ve used gentle movement activities in meetings to energize people and create a sense of embodiment in the work we’re doing. 
 
Finding the Motivation to Move
Learning about the benefits of exercise can motivate us to start something new, but it often isn’t enough to keep us going long enough for it to become a habit. Finding a form of activity that you enjoy and your own intrinsic motivation can help. For example, each of us has different reasons that keep us moving. For Robin, her morning run is her chance to clear her head and start her day on the right foot (pun intended). Swimming and hiking have brought KKaye a sense of challenge and adventure over the years. Jennifer notices that, for her, short movement breaks throughout the day can help her relieve tension, boost creativity, and often lead to breakthrough ideas. Tara finds that listening to podcasts helps add pleasure to long walks or runs. 
 
Move when you can—the minutes and benefits add up
Whatever form of physical activity works for you is a great place to begin. To achieve cognitive benefits, you can start by aiming for 30-minutes of exercise, 2-3 times per week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity (where you can talk but not sing during the activity). Scheduling activity in your calendar helps to create the time, space, and commitment.
 
For added benefit, get active outdoors in the morning. Viewing sunlight within the first hour of waking up triggers cortisol, which puts your nervous system into a more focused state for the day. It also benefits your immune system and your sleep cycle. 
 
We know that many people and organizations are going through big transitions these days.  Whatever you are working on, we encourage you to find some time to make movement part of your care practice and to invite those around you to join you. 
 
If you want to learn more about how Emerging Perspectives can help you or your work, contact us or explore our website

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