We all have experienced the fatigue, brain fog, and general lack of sprightly spirit that can come from sitting at a desk for extended periods of time. And we all have been lectured to about the harmful effects of sitting, on our health and our productivity.
But let’s be honest. Sometimes we just have to get sh*t done, so getting down on the floor and doing some crazy stretches doesn’t seem quite that feasible.
Well, I am delighted to be the bearer of some pretty great news. I’m going to let the following two quotes speak for themselves. To just frame the picture for you, these quotes discuss the inextricable link between MOVEMENT, the BRAIN, and COGNITIVE FUNCTION.
Pretty cool stuff. I’ll break the quotes down after you give them a quick read.
“Born with a simple spinal cord and a three hundred neuron “brain”, the larva motors around in the shallows until it finds a nice patch of coral on which to put down its roots. It has about twelve hours to do so, or it will die. Once safely attached, however, the sea squirt simply eats its brain. For most of its life, it looks much more like a plant than an animal, and since it’s not moving, it has no use for its brain. Lllinas’s interpretation: ‘That which we call thinking is the evolutionary internalization of movement.’” – Dr. John Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain
“By showing that exercise sparks the master molecule of the learning process, Cotman nailed down a direct biological connection between movement and cognitive function.” – Dr. John Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain
This book quoted above, written by Dr. John Ratey, is one of my favorite books. That’s because I’m a nerd and love anything talking about the brain-body connection as it relates to our optimal health & performance.
What he is explaining is that without MOVEMENT, we actually wouldn’t need a brain. Yup. And, this works in reverse as well. Because the true purpose of the brain is movement (external movement via physical activity, or internal movement via thoughts), when we MOVE, we are stimulating our brain, and thus boosting our cognitive function.
The moral of the story? If you’re feeling sleepy, unmotivated and/or uninspired, give your body a dose of movement! What’s even better is that these movements do NOT need to be large, sweat-inducing or performed for long periods of time. Movement, in any form, causes a powerful cascade in our brain, and our entire body.
Movement (according to Ratey), even simply small joint mobility exercises, has the ability to boost neurotransmitters (namely, BDNF – brain-derived neurotrophic factor) responsible for the healthy function of neurons, the regeneration of new neurons, and the protection of neurons from stress and cellular death. This also causes a cascade of other hormones and neurotransmitters that support learning, memory, stress-management and problem solving to be released.
But, again, we sometimes are short on time since life is in no way perfect and we can’t always dedicate large chunks of time to exercise each day.
So, I’ve chosen a couple of energy-boosting exercises that can be done seated or standing at your desk (or anywhere, for that matter! Even on an airplane!) that don’t look ridiculous and can probably even be done without anyone taking notice!
These also were selected for particular reasons, listed below.
Any movement involving the spine is extremely powerful, since there are so many joint articulations in the body, and our spinal cord holds so many nerve endings. The more joints we can mobilize, the more “movement” and “information” we are feeding to our brain (read more on this in my article on why joints are the new muscles). So, any area of the body that has lots of movement receptors will be a high-impact exercise.
Exercises for the shoulders are extremely important if you tend to be desk-bound. This is because our shoulders often end up in one of two positions – forward slouching OR elevated up towards our ears due to tension/stress. So, feeding our shoulders the movement that they were designed for is extremely important. This will keep the entire chain of our body functioning properly, because of our shoulders are out of whack, it shifts everything else out of alignment, causing dangerous compensations. So, get those shoulders moving!
Last but nowhere near least, exercises for the feet & ankles are extremely high-impact and low-risk. Plus, you can do them under your desk or in the seat of an airplane without anyone giving you strange looks – they can be done INSIDE of your shoe! And just as discussed above, the more joints an area has, the more movement we are feeding to our brain, which makes the body very happy (again – read more on why the body loves joint movement here). Well, the foot has 28 bones and 33 joints. So…while some ankle circles may seem like a measly little exercise that you can just skip over, they are extremely powerful. Plus, as I have discussed in some of my Facebook videos, the feet are an often over-looked part of the body – but foot strength and stability is critical to leg strength, full-body strength, balance & power.
So the next time you are feeling like you need another afternoon Starbucks run, save your $5 (and some calories!) and try a couple sneaky desk exercises. I bet the fog hanging over your brain will clear up and you’ll be ready to get back to your to-do list with some newfound vigor.
To learn more about Melanie Daly and her personal training, please visit her website: http://www.backpainpersonaltrainer.com/