Stress. Performance. Focus. Everything we do to achieve greatness is affected by how we train our bodies.
The morning of the biggest presentation of your career, you wake up early, tie up your running shoes and head out for a mile-long jog. Why?
Because you know how beneficial exercise can be to clear your mind and prepare you for the day. But, are you doing the right exercises to prepare you for specific tasks? Find out below:
How exercise affects cognitive function
Years of research has demonstrated the need for an active lifestyle. But in the wake of ever-evolving technology, we have grown accustomed to a more sedentary lifestyle... leaving us in a weakened state, both physically and mentally.
Various types of workouts provide the increase in heart rate we need to release more oxygen to our brain. And with this fuel, our brain can trigger the correct hormones to promote brain cell growth, decrease stress, and more! According to Health & Human Services, adults should take part in at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. Roughly, this translates to 20-40 minutes a day. Or for those short on time, 75 minutes to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week (10-20 minutes/day).
But, what the HHS doesn't specify is what type of training will induce the benefits we seek. There are 5 main types of physical activity that can count towards our aerobic intensity minutes:
- Speed Training
- Plyometric Training
- Power Training
- Strength Training
- Endurance Training
Each training releases different hormones, neurotransmitters, and other cognitive benefits. These benefits can be leveraged by busy professionals and high achievers to excel in their performance. How? By understanding the difference between each... and when a change is needed.
The Science of Exercise
Most of us already understand the benefits of exercise-induced hormone release in the form of the "runner's high." But, the release of dopamine and endorphins are just part of the equation.
The endocrine system regulates the production of hormones, which are chemicals that control cellular functions. Hormones can affect a number of different cells; however, they only influence the ones with specific receptor sites. Hormones control a number of physiological reactions in the body including energy metabolism, reproductive processes, tissue growth, hydration levels, synthesis and degradation of muscle protein, and mood.
Understanding how exercise influences the hormones that control physiological functions can assist you in developing effective exercise programs
When we exercise for greater than 20 minutes, at an intensity high enough to trigger our aerobic system, neurotrophins are released. These neuron-based proteins create the building blocks of the brain, promoting the growth of new neurons and more neural connections. In English: we create new brain cells in specific areas of the brain.
Hormones like Serotonin and Norepinephrine facilitate this process of increasing brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to permanently change). In addition, this new cell growth acts as a first aid kit to damaged cells, improving brain function... specifically in our memory and information processing centres.
Now, let's talk about the elephant in the room for a second. Improved memory and processing skills are great, but for many individuals, training is a form of stress release. A way to allow those feel-good hormones we discussed early to flow in and let stress hormones like Cortisol flow out. But there are many misconceptions about those -- so, we'll answer them here before moving on.
Most training programs are actually stress-inducing… and it’s a good thing! Cortisol helps promote fat metabolism. However, when we exercise for too long, we can elevate these levels to the point of muscle catabolism -- our bodies begin using muscle protein as fuel instead of conserving it for tissue repair. Ouch.
So, instead of relying on exercise to reduce stress, we want to focus on how our workouts help us perform better… and begin to understand when our bodies need certain training modes versus others.
For example, moderate to heavy loads performed until momentary fatigue generate high levels of mechanical force, which creates more damage to muscle protein, which signals the production of Testosterone, HGH, and IGF to repair protein, which results in muscle growth.
Creating your training programme
We get it, some people love doing yoga all day every day… some people were born to lift heavy weights… while others dig the long-distance running scene. But here’s the thing: our bodies hate monotony, and require a versatile training program that is multi-faceted to generate specific benefits at specific times of our lives.
In times of quick decision-making and speed processing, speed training is where it’s at. This includes max-effort sprints, HIIT activities, and agility training. Speed Training’s high-intensity not only triggers the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1) to support and repair cell damage, but it also stimulates the production of new cells in the brain through the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). That’s right, we can actually grow our brain through this type of training!
Not only can we induce brain growth, but we can also create symmetry in the brain. You’ve heard of Right-Brained v. Left-Brained, right? Well, through the use of Plyometrics such as box jumps, skipping, and jump roping, we can enhance the coordination and balance in both hemispheres of the brain. Struggle with crunching numbers but super creative? Look to balance it out by including some Plyo’s in your training. Studies show this type of training aide in alerting, orienting, and executing necessary functions within the brain.
Searching for menopause relief or simply trying to hold-off the brain fog that comes with age? Power training is for you. Studies found that power training provides the increase heart rate needed to boost Estrogen levels in menopausal women and stimulate improvements in both the Mini-Mental State Exam and Montreal Cognitive Assessments. These tests of orientation, attention, memory, language and visual-spatial skills provide a unique insight into the possibility of preventative measures of mental decline.
Increasing our muscle mass doesn’t mean we’ll turn into big, jocky meatheads. In fact, we can significantly increase our cognitive capacity through a proper resistance program. Strength training has been found to lower white matter atrophy and white matter lesions in ageing adults, therefore increasing our processing speed and memory. And while the research is fairly new, we have high hopes for the science of strength training beyond the increase in Testosterone among men and women… speaking of which, here’s a fun fact for you: men and women have different triggers for testosterone release -- men, stick with higher intensity strength regimens while ladies can trigger a release through moderate resistance/cardio-based training sessions!
Extensive studies have used endurance training to elicit brain adaptations, so the results are widely known. So, here’s a recap: moderate continuous aerobic training provides enhancements in brain plasticity and metabolism. By triggering the release of Fibroblast Growth Factor-21 (FGF-21), long-distance cardio can enhance our individual executive cognitive functions -- a clearer mind to make the best decisions possible.
While hopefully, you didn’t skip through to your favourite routines to find the benefits you’re looking for and instead carefully considered including different training types into your healthy lifestyle to increase your performance in the workplace or in your overall life. If you chose to do the latter, congratulations! You are now one step closer to unlocking the limitless potential of your mind and overall performance.
What’s step two? CLICKING HERE to put everything you learned into practice with one of our B2A coaches!