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Exercise for Your Body & Your Mind

May 5th, 2020


“Exercise is the key not only to physical health but to peace of mind.” - Nelson Mandela

A woman on an open road with mountain scenery, preparing to exercise

Our Desire to Move

Humans are meant to move around. We are not meant to stay sedentary for long, and, in fact, humans typically never really stay still. The reader may be thinking, this cannot possibly be true, what about when we sleep, after all? Understandably, it makes sense to think that while we are sleeping, we are still, but in actuality, we are still moving. We may roll around and jerk in response to the hormones and neurotransmitters that are being released while we sleep. We may go into REM sleep and have quite a bit of physical response during this time of “rest”.

The point is, we, as humans, are moving all the time. Therefore, it should be no surprise that exercise is so important. Exercise is great for so many facets of human life, but the one that will be highlighted in this writing is that of focus and attention. Could it be possible that exercise can help with attention and focus? If so, how?

Exercise – What Is It Exactly?

To begin, we should probably establish what the construct of exercise is before describing how it can impact your life and how it may impact attention and focus. Exercise is the movement of the body that leads to the maintenance or enhancement of physical fitness and overall well-being and health.

Exercise is typically considered such if it is done purposefully and for a duration of time that allows for a cardiovascular response from the body. For example, a walk to the refrigerator is not considered exercise, but a walk around the block is.

The intensity of exercise is also factored in to the duration of exercise. For example, an intense bout of exercise would not need to be sustained as long as a low intensity exercise to achieve the physical and mental benefits.

It is recommended that adults get approximately two to three days of at least thirty minutes of high intensity exercise or approximately four or five days of an hour of low intensity exercise.

Attention and Focus

A lot is made in our present society about attention and focus. It is often mentioned in the media, schools, and in casual conversation. More and more people are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, and even more people are wondering if perhaps they have ADHD.

So, what is attention and why might people have (or think they have) ADHD?

Attention... the concept of noticing something and having an awareness of a person, thing, or idea. It is the interest in a subject and giving one’s thought and attentiveness to that subject. The idea of attention is abstract, it cannot be measured in a physical manner. However, the construct of focus can be measured and is a bit more concrete.

Focus… how much attention is spent on one thing over a period of time. It may be that someone focuses on something for a few seconds, whereas focus could be for minutes or even hours. Focus is the level of concentration that one has on whatever it is they are placing their attention on.

If someone is extremely focused, they will not be thinking about other things and will have their attention placed on just one area. If someone is lacking focus, their mind may race from thing to thing and their attention will not last on just one area for very long.

Some people find that they can focus better than others. Individuals may also realize that they can focus on some things better than other things. For example, if someone is extremely interested in a topic, they will probably have a better chance of staying focused on that subject than on something they are disinterested in. Focus can also be impacted by many other factors such as sleep, hunger, and the environment.

A group of people stretching yoga class

How Exercise and Focus Interact

We began discussing this topic by talking about exercise and how it may impact focus. There are preliminary studies that suggest that exercising can improve one’s ability to focus. There may be a number of different ways that exercise can interact and improve the focus of an individual.

When exercising, a number of neurotransmitters and hormones are produced and released in the body. These hormones can help one feel good and can help combat stress. When one feels good and has less stress, they are more likely to be able to focus at a greater rate.

Exercise also helps with sleep. When individuals’ sleep better, they are more likely to be rested and improve their concentration and focus. Exercise also helps improve cognitive decline, which means the brain will stay sharper and have more mental clarity, which allows for improved focus.

Finally, when taxing the brain with mental work, it can be good to give the brain a break and workout the body. This shift from mental work to physical work can spare the brain, giving it rest to repower and allow it to prepare to focus again when you need it to.

We Need Exercise

Exercise is a very important part of life for humans. We need exercise for various parts of our mental and physical health and well-being. Exercise may help improve one’s ability to focus and concentrate. Give exercise a try and see if your mind feels sharper after committing to moving the body!

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