Living in a modern society, the opportunities for exercise seem few and far between. Exercise before work is a pain as work starts early enough as it is, and after work you usually feel so mentally drained that the last thing you want to do is put yourself through any more pain. In addition to that, most jobs now require no physical activity at all, the most activity being to get out of your office chair to get another coffee.
This lack of daily physical activity is only a recent phenomenon, however. Only within the past 100 years has technology been developed that prevents you from having to leave your seat to make a living. Prior to that, the majority of people worked in the sort of jobs that require manual labour. During the industrial age many people worked in the factories. For millennia trade work and farming made the majority of work. And prior to that people were required to hunt and fight on a daily basis in order to survive. The fact that exercise isn’t a requirement for survival anymore means that people have to find their own motivation to do exercise. Which puts us at a disadvantage since exercise isn’t that fun and is painful, and the only free time people usually have to do it is at the end of the day when your willpower and motivation is almost entirely depleted.
So essentially, because exercise now requires our own motivation, and it’s hard to find motivation after work, most people just don’t exercise. So why is this a problem? Well you’ve all heard about health and cardiovascular disease and all that. But that’s not the only issue. Physical activity is a necessity for humans to perform optimally in all areas of their life. Without regular exercise, you just live at a lower level. This leads to feelings of chronic fatigue, poor concentration and motivation, and just not feeling up to it. It can even contribute to depression. In fact, regular exercise is so powerful, it has been found to be just as effective, if not more effective, at treating depression as antidepressant medication. And it’s free, has no side effects, doesn’t take weeks to actually work, and is more likely to actually help considering antidepressants don’t work in 30% of patients.
What makes exercise so important.
When you are performing at a higher level, it is because your brain is performing at a higher level. Therefore in order to perform optimally, your brain requires you to do regular exercise. There are many ways that exercise improves brain performance, including providing an increase of oxygenated blood to the brain giving it more energy, and the release of endorphins. Endorphins have been found to improve people’s mood across the entire day after exercising. And we all know that a better mood means better motivation, which leads to being more productive and getting things done.
More importantly though, when you perform regular exercise it promotes the release of a number of hormones that improve the functioning of the body and brain. These hormones produce the long lasting beneficial changes to the brain and allow the parts of your brain important for cognitive performance to physically increase in size.
The hormones I refer to include Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor, or BDNF and Insulin Like Growth Factor 1, or IGF-1. Both of these hormones are produced and released in response to moderate to high intensity exercise and exert their effects in the brain. Both are involved with increasing the production of new brain cells, increasing the size of existing brain cells and increasing and strengthening of the connections between cells, all important for improving brain function and therefore your performance.
While these hormones are produced and exert their effect straight after exercise, in the short term the positive effects are very minimal. Just like physical fitness requires regular exercise to improve, the benefits I discussed require long term elevations of these hormones in order to show significant improvement. This is why exercise is required everyday; so that the hormones are frequently causing positive changes that over time add up to higher brain performance.
In addition, if exercise is performed frequently, the levels of these hormones are found to be constantly higher even when you are resting. This means that not only will your exercise be contributing to increased performance, but while you are resting you will also be making a greater contribution to your brain function.
Types of regular exercise you should do to improve daily performance.
Fortunately, in order to get these effects you don’t need to be busting your gut everyday. Just a small amount of moderate exercise is required. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that the average person should perform at least 150 minutes of medium intensity exercise per week, with 30 to 60 minutes per session, or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise per week, with 20 to 60 minutes per session. This means that maybe you just need to start walking briskly or biking to work everyday if possible, or to your nearest public transport option. You will find even doing just this will cause marked improvements.
However, if this is not an option for you, a very efficient alternative is available; a 7 minute high intensity circuit training (HICT) workout. HICT or high intensity interval training (HIIT) if no circuit is involved, requires performing short periods of high intensity exercise broken up with short rest periods. This style of workout has been found to improve levels of aerobic fitness the same if not better than other continuous types of exercise that require much longer to complete, such as running or jogging. This means it has the same types of benefits as regular exercise but can be completed in a fraction of the time.
The 7 minute HICT workout that I mentioned was developed by the Human Performance Institute to provide the average person with a short, simple workout that can be performed daily to improve general performance and wellbeing. They chose specific exercises that together target all the major muscle groups in the body and improve strength as well as aerobic fitness. All of the exercises are bodyweight, meaning that no exercise equipment is required, although a chair and a wall is required for some exercises which I’m sure everyone will have access to. And best of all it only takes 7 minutes to complete. You really have no excuse now.
The workout requires performing each exercise for 30 seconds with 10 second rests in between. The exercises are completed in this order; star jumps, wall sit, push ups, abdominal crunches, step up onto chair, body squats, tricep dips on chair, plank, high knees running on spot, lunges, push ups with body rotation, and side plank. This circuit can be completed 2 or 3 times if desired.
This workout could be combined with a resistance workout performed 2 to 3 days a week as the intensity should be low enough to not compromise the recovery of your muscles or cause injury. That way you can focus on gaining strength and mass while reaping the other benefits of daily exercise. However, be careful and use your own judgment in determining whether your muscles can handle it.
The fact is, in order to live life to the fullest, you need to perform some type of daily exercise. When you don’t exercise, your body becomes slow, your brain becomes slow and your life becomes slow. Start doing some minor exercise everyday and you’ll have so much energy you won’t even need to get out of your seat to get that cup of coffee.
photo credit: nytimes