Everyone loves to swap tips about how to make an epic morning routine, but when it comes to implementation, there are a few easy whoopsies that are far too easy to make. Hitting the snooze button, starting your day from the bed and sacrificing your morning productivitytime for a late-night Netflix marathon are all potential ways to sabotage the potential your mornings have.
And potential, indeed. A growing body of research is finding that mornings are actually the most optimal time for you to ideate or be creative. A study in the Thinking & Reasoning Journal reported that the perceived-to-be least optimal times for thinking and creativity (such as first thing in the morning, when you’re groggy and still on your first cup of coffee) are actually the most optimal times. “Results showed consistently greater insight problem-solving performance during non-optimal times of day compared to optimal times of day,” the research stated.
So, the cost of making mistakes in your morning routine is quite high. Imagine the groundbreaking ideas for your business, next book, or even next family vacation that could surface in the light of the morning! Make sure you aren’t making the following mistakes that will cost you productivity and peace.
Mistake 1: Diving out of bed the second the alarm goes off
For sure, this mistake is done with good intentions — as a bit of a defense mechanism, if you will. If you force yourself to fly out of bed the moment you hear the dreaded alarm, you may be less likely to lay there and break into a mental argument about whether or not the morning commute can afford you an extra five minutes of snooze time. But, this drastic action disconnects you from your body immediately. A better alternative? Take just a few minutes to stretch and elongate your body as much as possible.
This concept is inspired by researcher Amy Cuddy, who coined the term “Power Pose.” When your body stretches out, you’ll actually feel more confident. In addition to this mood boost, a stretch first thing (even by putting your arms into a V shape, which Cuddy says boosts incredible happiness) increases your blood flow to all areas of your body.
After a few minutes of stretching, take your time getting out of bed and going about your immediate morning routine: making coffee, brushing your teeth and getting dressed. Then, consider doing the Power Pose again while standing up, or even during your morning shower!
A Lifestyle of Mobile Consumers Survey reported that 1 out of every 4 young adults checks their phones within one minute of waking up. It’s tempting, for sure — especially nowadays, when there is so much information on your email, social media and in your text messages. But Glenn Lundy, the host and founder of the incredibly popular #RiseandGrind podcast, says this is a major mistake.
“Neither your mind nor your body are ready for that type of stimulation first thing,” Lundy shared. “When you’re groggily waking up, it’s important to focus on presence and gratitude, rooting yourself in your own body through some morning movement and writing down your goals.” These pieces of advice are from his #TheMorning5 67 day challenge, which has been taken up by tens of thousands of individuals across the globe.
“Remember that there’s nothing on your phone that can’t wait for you,” Lundy explained. “And, you’ll be better equipped to handle any work crisis or exciting news when you’ve fully woken up and completed a healthy morning routine.”
Mistake 3: Sleeping in too late
Now, we aren’t telling you which hours you should or shouldn’t be sleeping, but consider this. If you know you’re tempted to check your phone first thing because you feel like you’re missing something, imagine how much that temptation will reside if you wake up earlier than most do. There’s something to this. A study by Amerisleep shared the stunning differences between early risers and late risers in productivity, salary, and general quality of life.
The study reported that “people who get themselves out of bed at the crack of dawn — yes, we’re talking about 4 am — responded they felt “highly productive” 71% of the time. Compare that to people who snooze until 11 am, the least likely group to report being productive. They’re only productive 36% of the time.”
This productivity also translates to money, as the study found that the early risers made an average of $15,000 more each year than the late sleepers.
Ultimately, what works best in your morning routine does come down to personal preference. This is an invitation to experiment. We all have the same 24 hours, and we all have a “morning routine,” whether it’s set in stone and followed habitually, or something that looks different every single day. Consider that the first hour of your day sets the tone for the rest of your day, and therefore, is likely the most important time to take full advantage of. Stretch out, keep that phone turned off, and consider rising earlier than you’re used to. The proof in both productivity and peace will reveal itself.
What are the morning routine mistakes that can derail your day? Many people start a new morning routine only to give up a few days later\. And others will watch videos about “successful routines,” but feel frustrated because these morning habits don’t match their day-to-day reality.
[…] Cruz then responded by suggesting that Twitter’s selective censorship, which includes routine “mistakes” being made only against conservatives, only further proves that the tech platform is now a content […]
[…] So, if you inherit a mutation in one of those genes, you still have some ability to repair any routine mistakes that are being made, but over time, you have less ability, and then, if you get a cancer that has a […]
5 Morning Routine Mistakes You Might Be Making There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a smal […] So, in this article, we will look at 5 morning routine mistakes that you might be making that can decrease the potential that this critical time of day has t […] Final Thoughts on Morning Routine Mistakes Do you find that you’re making any of the mistakes we listed in this article? If so, consider ho […]
[…] So, if you inherit a mutation in one of those genes, you still have some ability to repair any routine mistakes that are being made, but over time, you have less ability, and then, if you get a cancer that has a […]
We are all prone to making mistakes, even in areas we are experienced in. Approaching a task without the fear of making mistakes is the best attitude, and if and when they occur, they teach great lessons. For designers, some may be as simple as forgetting a small detail to bigger ones that would require a redo of the whole project. Mistakes should not prevent you from being creative and designing that system or software for your client or business. Instead, they present you with a great chance to improve your skills and career. Here are some of the most common mistakes that a designer is prone to make and how you can avoid them. Not Using Logs Logs are an essential part of every system. They oversee system events as well as storing user actions like passwords and file renaming. They act as watchtower lookouts alerting you when there’s a security breach in the system. Using logs when designing a system is therefore essential to ensure the security of the data and also spend more time-solving problems rather than looking for what is wrong. You might require the services of a log monitoring company for proper log management. Papertrail offers you an all-in-one cloud based log management solution to ensure your data is safe. Taking on Many Projects at the Same Time Having too much work to handle may mean more income and sometimes an overworked brain. The divided attention plus the tension of not meeting the deadlines may result in reduced output and a less than satisfied client. Imagine the quality of a project that you have given your focus. It will definitely improve your portfolio. Solution: Even though it means less income, learning to say no to work you can’t handle, is a virtue. You will have more time to concentrate on the tasks at hand and deliver quality work that can earn you referrals and recurrent clients. Unclear Responsibilities This happens especially when you are handling a group project. If there’s no project manager, then individual tasks often overlap, some tasks may be left unattended to, or worse still other team members may be less concerned about their roles. The client will notice the mistakes in the work delivered, and whether or not you did your part excellently, the mistakes lie on every team member since there were no guidelines and expectations laid down at the start. Solution: The best way to handle this would be clearly stating what is expected of every member of the team and tasks that each individual should handle by a project manager assigned to the project. According to the National Institute of Corrections, teams function more successfully when everyone understands their roles. That way, everyone will be answerable about their tasks. Lack of Proper Communication Some instructions sent by the client weren’t clear, but you did not seek clarification. Or it may be a question you should have asked during the meeting, but you did not because you feared been seen as dumb. The deadline draws near, and because you cannot avoid it anymore, you ask, and you are forced to correct parts you had already done or worse still, start the whole project again. Solution: You can avoid all these problems by communicating all the relevant information with the client. Ask for clarification where you don’t understand, sort out any uncertainties. It’s better to over-communicate and avoid mistakes than not communicate at all and end up with a load of errors. Working Alone Doing everything yourself is a recipe for making mistakes. You love to think you’re the solution to all the problems. You don’t ask someone to proofread your work or their insights, and you end up delivering work that is full of errors. Some of these details are very minute, and it’d take a different person to notice them. Solution: Design is a collaborative discipline. Learn to involve other people, look for a variety of perspectives, and different insights. Most importantly, learn to tame your ego. There is no harm in looking for an editor to correct the errors. Design is inclusive or else it won’t work out. Conclusion Learning how to avoid these mistakes or even fixing them may take some time and sometimes even more investment. But in the end, it will pay off in other forms like client retention, increased income, more referrals, an excellent reputation, and reduced reworks.
[…] the underlying significant errors and delays that her strategy had not addressed resulted in routine mistakes and failures being replicated at doubtless enormous cost to both council taxpayers and th […]
We’ve all sat through weary-eyed, leg-cramping power sessions at our desk, chasing a deadline, or busy dealing with endless tasks, emails, and meetings (now zoom meetings) back to back.
If you are one of the millions moving to working remotely in 2021, you are probably working longer hours, putting in more continual desk time, and without the daily commute, more sedentary than ever.
In a recent report released from the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers discovered that workers are working close to an hour more per day during lockdowns than they were before the pandemic.
So, how do we navigate the new normal and restore our productivity, focus, and well-being?
The secret is to take regular breaks at work.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” ― Anne Lamott
If you listen to the experts, breaks are essentially little “interventions” that help us gracefully and productively manage the daily grind with rationale and perspective intact.
This complete guide covers all the nitty-gritty about taking breaks at work.
You will learn the importance of taking breaks, how to take effective breaks, what to do on your daily breaks to truly relax and boost your productivity, and a step-by-step guide on how to design a system so that you can easily make breaks a regular part of your routine and stick to it.
Sounds good?Let’s dive in.
Yes, it’s tempting to just want to “power through” one more hour of work. You don’t want to take breaks because you think you can get more done. But did you?
One day you started realizing that your neck, wrist, and back are hurting, despite being an otherwise health-conscious, active lifestyle advocate.
Whether you’re an employee or project stakeholder, hours spent sitting at a desk and staring at a screen puts a strain on your productivity and health.
Take a look.
Our Bodies Suffer
There is a lot of pressure to sit in the office – it’s how you get your work done.
Now that you are probably spending more days working at home, where you don’t need to get up and walk around to talk to people. You are not walking to meetings, you don’t even need to commute.
You are more exposed to the danger of sitting too much.
Researchers have linked sitting for prolonged periods of time to a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems.
Toni Yancey, a professor of health services at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, describes the process: “Sitting shuts down electrical activity in the legs. It makes the body less sensitive to insulin, causes calorie-burning to plummet, and slows the breakdown of dangerous blood fats, lowering ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.”
What’s noteworthy is that:
A recent science advisory from the American Heart Association has shown that going to the gym, running, or your favorite fitness class, doesn’t cancel out the negative impact of time spent being sedentary.
Radical as it might sound, you can’t undo sitting.
While working out and fitness are important if your goal is to maintain or get in the best shape of your life, it cannot reverse the harmful effects of sitting for the rest of the day and moving very little within your office or home.
Despite all the physical damage, what happens to your brain when you don’t take breaks: Your productivity goes downhill…before you notice.
Brain scientists are very aware of the fact that prolonged work is depleting. The “fading” that we experience creates declines in mood and performance.
“We don’t know exactly what in the brain gets depleted, but when you do a cognitively demanding task, it operates as though there’s a ‘mental fuel’ that gets burned up.” – William Helton, PhD, a professor of human factors and applied cognition at George Mason University
Recent studies show that those who give in to some kind of break once an hour perform better than those who just keep at it without a break.
The Power of Taking Breaks
Many people experience “productivity breakthroughs” after going against their instincts to meet a deadline by taking a pause. We emerge refreshed and more resilient after getting up for both brain and movement breaks.
So, how do breaks help us?
Here’s a quick look at the magic taking breaks does to our brain:
Boosted creativity and problem-solving abilities
Better information retention
Prevents decision fatigue
Reevaluate goals and seeing the bigger picture
Better stress management
Besides the juicy benefits that breaks have on our brains, now what if you can double the benefits?
It’s simple – add movement to your breaks.
For those who get the least amount of physical activity, replacing a half hour of sitting time with physical activity was associated with up to a nearly 50% reduction in mortality, according to a new study from the American Cancer Society.
Breaks are a great opportunity to incorporate movement into our workdays to combat the setbacks of a sedentary lifestyle.
Take a look at the most important benefits of movement breaks:
Improve energy levels
Boost mood and relieve stress
Strengthen weakened muscles and bones
Reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
Reduces the risk of injury
Boost memory and focus
It’s pretty clear that taking breaks is a powerful tool that can make us better at what we do, feel physically better, and happier.
High-performing people understand the power of taking breaks and know how to take advantage of effective breaks to become more productive while keeping their health in check.
So, how do you harness the power of taking breaks, so that you come back fully recharged both physically and mentally?
Continue reading to find out the strategy that actually works.
The Secret to Taking Effective Breaks at Work
Although taking breaks at work might seem even harder when we are working from home and being “accessible” every waking minute, understanding how the brain works and taking the initiative to establish boundaries for effective breaks has quickly become the secret weapon to avoid burnout, improved productivity and personal well-being.
“Breaks are crucial,” says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. “If you’re working day after day and not letting up, you will burn out.”
Understanding the Productivity Cycle
Our focus, energy, and motivation moves in “waves”.
According to Pozen’s findings, taking a 15-minute break following a productivity chunk allows our brains to better consolidate and retain information. Pozen’s findings echo the findings of research done by Tony Schwartz, the author of The Power of Full Engagement, showing that humans naturally move from full focus to fatigue every 90 minutes.
How often should I take a break? And for how long?
There are many studies that have looked at optimal break schedules. Here are some of the most popular, science-supported methods which you could integrate into a workday:
Once Every Hour
Taking a 5 to 15 minutes break at the top of every hour like clockwork can get you ahead of the 75-minute fatigue curve. Plus, a top-of-the-hour break is easy to remember and execute.
Every 75 to 90 minutes
Following the brain’s “full-focus-to-fatigue” cycle, you can ride productivity waves all the way to the end before refreshing with a break for 5 to 15 minutes.
One of the most common ways to implement a schedule with breaks. Start with a to-do list and timer. After setting your timer for 25 minutes, focus on one task at a time until the timer buzzes. You will mark what you’ve completed before taking a non-negotiable 5-minute break. Enjoy a 30-minute break for every four pomodoros.
The 52:17 Method
Work in increments of 52 minutes before 17-minute breaks.
As you can see, all of these techniques essentially follow the same pattern of riding productivity peaks, followed by small breaks – typically 5 to 15 minutes.
In doing this, we can build up new productivity cycles every 60 to 90 minutes without succumbing to the fatigue that naturally comes without breaks.
However, how often you should take a break depends on the nature of your work and how your brain functions. Everyone is different. The key is to experiment and find your own rhythm.
Take breaks The Right Way
Research shows that taking the wrong type of breaks could actually increase fatigue and steal your productivity, such as mindless snacking, online shopping, and mindlessly scrolling on social media.
It’s also tempting to do some work during your breaks, such as checking your email or the message from your manager. It’s a no-no.
If these are the only breaks you are taking, keep reading to find out how to take breaks the right way.
To reap the maximum benefits of a break, you need to give your brain a chance to relax and your body a chance to recharge.
The best practice is to incorporate activities into your breaks that bring you joy and positive vibes.
For example, a short breathing exercise during your break can help lower blood pressure and relieve stress.
9 break ideas that boost your health and productivity
Simple stretches and mobilization exercises to relax and keep your body functioning, ease stiffness from sitting too long, and prevent injuries.
(Home) office-friendly exercises to wake your sleeping muscles up, boost your energy level, and help you gain focus. Studies have shown that a moderate level of cardio activity can boost creativity and productivity for up to two hours.
A short walk outside. Despite the physical benefits, being physically detached from work, and getting some fresh air in your lungs improves your mood and lowers stress.Breathing/meditative exercise helps your body relax and is one of the most powerful ways to relax your brain and regulating your stress response.
Nap. If you are working from home, or work at a progressive company that affords you the luxury of taking a nap in the office. Take advantage of that. In several studies, a nap of as short as 10 minutes can improve your cognitive function and decrease sleepiness and fatigue. Having that afternoon slump? Nap it off. Be aware that naps that exceed 20 minutes might leave you feeling groggy and disoriented. It is best to limit your naps to 10 to 20 minutes.
Talk to someone. Chat with a colleague or a friend (who is also on a break), grab a coffee down the street, take your dog on a walk, call your mom, or play with your kids if you are a parent working from home.
Laugh. Yes, go ahead and watch some funny videos of cats. According to a recent study, laugh breaks can improve your performance.
While it can be fun to work some creative activities into breaks, the goal remains the same if you want to maximize cognitive and physical boosts:
1. Take your mind off work to give your brain a chance to truly relax;
2. Get up from your chair and move around to combat the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
The step-by-step guide to make breaks a regular part of your workday
If you’ve read this far, you probably have a pretty good idea of why you need to take breaks, what to do on your breaks and have a strong intention to do so.
Now you’re thinking, “but how do I implement it to my workday and make it a habit?”
It is surprisingly hard for most people to make the change to integrate breaks into the day, even when it’s something that they intend to achieve.
The problem is that most people fail to follow the instructions that they give themselves.
Let’s be honest, it’s way easier to sit on your chair and mindlessly scroll through your phone, OR, you could be so deep in your work that you don’t have extra mental energy to come up with stuff to do or even think about taking a break.
This is when you need a system to, sort of, automate that part of your day. It’s like having your coach showing up at your door every day at the same time to keep you accountable.
So, how do you design a system that helps you achieve this goal?
The perfect behavior-modification technique for this case is what psychologists call implementation intentions. It is a self-regulatory strategy that has been found to be particularly effective when it comes to situations where there may be immediate costs but significant long-term benefits, such as taking breaks at work.
An implementation intention supports our goal intention by setting out in advance when/where and how I will achieve this goal.
Here’s how :
Step 1: Specify your goal. For example, “I will take a break every hour at work”.
Step 2: Schedule them in your calendar (the When). Alternatively, if you prefer to work in “sprints”, set a timer on your phone or computer. You can set a timer for 30-minutes, go with the 52:17 method, or whichever time is optimal for you.
Step 3: Plan out your break activities ahead to avoid needing to “decide” what to do when it’s break time, such as “Go for a 5-minute walk at 3 pm” (the How)
Step 4: Follow the cues you have outlined in your plan
As a result, your goal will be performed automatically and efficiently, without conscious effort.
What we love the most about this technique is that it frees our cognitive resources for other brain-heavy tasks like study & work, since we don’t need to think about when to take a break and what to do for that break. It’s already planned!
Once you take the first step of planning it out, the automated system that you designed helps to remove the hesitation and deliberation when you want to take a break. It’s like putting your breaks on auto-pilot.
And…if you don’t want to go through the hassle of manually scheduling breaks into your workday, or waste your mental energy on coming up with what to do for your breaks, there are tools that are designed to make your life easier.
“Are there any tools that can help me take breaks?”
We are glad that you asked. Yes, there are.
At StretchMinder, we are obsessed with great tools that make life easier. After all, that’s what we believe what technology should be – making people’s lives easier.
Here are 7 hand-picked tools that help you take breaks:
StretchMinder – A unique blend of break reminder and 7-minute workout. From putting your breaks on auto-pilot with pre-scheduled breaks to providing guided activity routines including Movement, Breathing & Walking exercises, the app takes care of it all with just a few clicks. It is perfect for those who want the easiest way to build a habit of taking breaks and moving more throughout the day.
Focus To-Do– A app that brings Pomodoro Technique and To-Do List into one place, you can capture and organize tasks into your to-do lists, start focus timer and focus on work & study, set reminders for important tasks and errands, check the time spent at work.
Focus Booster – A simple and lightweight timer that automatically records each session. The app features a Pomodoro timer, a mini timer, customizable session lengths, report exports, and manual time entry.
Flow Time – A Chrome Extension to boost your productivity. It works as a Pomodoro-like timer & website blocker that boosts your productivity by making your mind go into the state of flow faster.
Google – If you want to keep things simple, just type “set a timer for X minutes” into Google and set your timer.
Your calendar – Schedule your break slots and set reminders on your calendar to repeat every day.
Your phone – Set a timer with the native timer tool and repeat every day diligently.
In the world of health research, exercise is one of the few things that pretty much everyone agrees on.
Regular physical activity improves heart health, reduces your risk of cancer, keeps your bones healthy, improves mental health, and the list goes on.
But does it matter where you do your exercise? Will a gym work-out have the same health benefits as a bootcamp in a local park?
The bottom line is any exercise is better than no exercise, doctor and researcher Sandro Demaio tells ABC Life. So if exercising indoors works for you, stick with it.
“But there is some interesting evidence that running on a treadmill does not give the same mental health benefits as running outside, and it may not give you the same happy hormone boost as running outside,” Dr Demaio says.
“That makes sense because you’re not just running to improve your heart health and get the blood moving around the body and improve your fitness. You’re also outside seeing things, smelling things and getting fresh air. All those things will have an effect.”
Time in nature can boost mental health
It turns out, simply ‘being’ in a beautiful, natural environment really can benefit your mental health.
Levi Wade is a University of Newcastle PhD student studying the effects of outdoor exercise on mental health and cognition in teenagers.
“There’s a big evidence base on its effect on concentration and stress reduction. Those are the two big effects you’ll find,” Mr Wade says.
Broadly speaking, we can exert two different types of focus: hard and soft. Doing homework, checking over a spreadsheet, or crafting a pithy email all require hard focus.
Being immersed in a beautiful natural environment, on the other hand, can stimulate our soft focus. You might acknowledge the rustling of the leaves, or pay attention to the bird life.
Switching to soft focus allows your hard focus to recover: this is referred to as the restorative effect.
“If you’re walking in a forested environment or just somewhere that’s fascinating and beautiful, then a lot of the mechanism behind that effect on stress and mood is due to that environment taking your mind away from your own problems and whatever stress you are experiencing,” Mr Wade says.
“It’s just relaxing your mind because you’re not focusing on those thoughts.”
Much of the research around these benefits of outdoor exercise has been conducted on walking — specifically, walking in forested environments in Japan. It’s a popular activity there (not surprising given that 65 per cent of the country is covered in forest) and it’s termed shinrin-yoku, or “forest-bathing”.
One of the world’s leading shinrin-yoku researchers is Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, who has been conducting research on the physiological relaxation effects of nature since the early 1990s.
“The most important thing is to make use of nature that you like,” he says.
“During our research, we found that even small elements of nature that you personally like, like plant aromas, flower arrangements, potted plants, or bonsai can have a physiological relaxation effect.”
Of course, sitting next to a potted plant for halfa won’t have the same effect on your health (physical or mental) as a 5k run. But if you’re feeling overworked, then taking some time away from the city is likely to make you feel better.
Then there’s vitamin D boost
Exercising outdoors is also a great way to get your vitamin D, which you need for healthy bones, muscles and other vital body functions.
If you have fair skin you need roughly around 5–15 minutes of sun exposure a day, but this can vary depending on the time of year, and where in Australia you are.
More and more studies are showing how regular exercise benefits the brain, and in particular, the aging brain. What’s less clear is how exactly exercise counters the cognitive decline that comes with aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s.
To find out, for nearly a decade, Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and his colleagues have studied a unique group of middle-aged people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Through a series of studies, the team has been building knowledge about which biological processes seem to change with exercise.
Okonkwo’s latest findings show that improvements in aerobic fitness mitigated one of the physiological brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s: the slowing down of how neurons breakdown glucose. The research, which has not been published yet, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association on Aug. 9.
Okonkwo works with the 1,500 people on the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP)—all of whom are cognitively normal, but have genes that put them at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or have one or two parents who have been diagnosed with the disease, or both. In the latest study, Okonkwo recruited 23 people from the WRAP population who were not physically active. Eleven were asked to participate in an exercise regimen to improve their aerobic fitness for six months, and 12 served as the control.
All had their brains scanned to track Alzheimer’s-related brain changes including differences in how neurons metabolized glucose, since in people with Alzheimer’s glucose breakdown slows. At the end of the study period, the group that exercised more showed higher levels of glucose metabolism and performed better on cognitive-function tests compared to the controls.
“We are carrying our research full circle and beginning to demonstrate some causality,” says Okonkwo about the significance of his findings.
In their previous work, he and his team identified a series of Alzheimer’s-related biological changes that seemed to be affected by exercise by comparing, retrospectively, people who were more physically active to those who were not.
In this study, they showed that intervening with an exercise regimen could actually affect these processes. Taken together, his body of research is establishing exactly how physical activity contributes to significant changes in the biological processes that drive Alzheimer’s, and may even reduce the effect of strong risk factors such as age and genes linked to higher risk of neurodegenerative disease.
For example, in their earlier work his group confirmed that as people age, the presence of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes increases—including the buildup of amyloid, slower breakdown of glucose by brain cells, shrinking of the volume of the hippocampus (central to memory), and declines in cognitive function measured in standard recall and recognition tests.
But they found that in people who reported exercising at moderate intensity at least 150 minutes a week, as public health experts recommend, brain scans showed that these changes were significantly reduced and in some cases non-existent compared to people who were not active. “The association between age and Alzheimer’s brain changes was blunted,” says Okonkwo, “Even if [Alzheimer’s] got worse, it didn’t get worse at the same speed or rate among those who are physically active as in those who are inactive.”
In another previous study, they found the benefits of exercise in controlling Alzheimer’s processes even among those with genetic predisposition for the disease. When they divided the participants by fitness levels, based on a treadmill test and their ability to efficiently take in oxygen, they found that being fit nearly negated the effect of the deleterious gene ApoE4. “It’s a remarkable finding because it’s not something that was predicted,” says Okonkwo.
In yet another previous study, Okonkwo and his team also found that people with higher aerobic fitness showed lower amounts of white matter hyperintensities, brain changes that are signs of neuron degeneration and show up as brighter spots on MRI images (hence the name). White matter hyperintensities tend to increase in the brain with age, and are more common in people with dementia or cognitive impairment.
They form as neurons degrade and the myelin that surrounds their long-reaching arms—which helps nerves communicate with each other effectively—starts to deteriorate. In people with dementia, that process happens faster than normal, leading to an increase in white matter hyperintensities. Okonwko found that people who were more aerobically fit showed lower amounts of these hyperintensities than people who were less fit.
Given the encouraging results from his latest study of 23 people that showed intervening with exercise can change some of the Alzheimer’s-related brain changes of the disease, he plans to expand his small study to confirm the positive effect that exercise and better fitness can have in slowing the signs of Alzheimer’s. Already, his work has inspired a study launched earlier this year and funded by the National Institutes of Health that includes brain scans to track how physical activity affects biological factors like amyloid and glucose in people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The cumulative results show that “there may be certain things we are born with, and certain things that we can’t change ]when it comes to Alzheimer’s risk], but a behavior like physical exercise might help us to modify that,” says Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.
Think for a moment about your school gym classes. Did you just grin with fond reminiscence or reflexively shudder? A revealing new study suggests that these disparate responses to memories of physical education classes are both common and consequential.
How we felt during gym classes years or decades ago may shape how we feel about exercise today and whether we choose to be physically active, the study finds. The result may have implications for our understanding of exercise motivation and also for how we should introduce our children to sports and movement.
About two-thirds of adults in the Western world rarely if ever exercise, health statistics tell us. There are many reasons so many of us are sedentary, but most behavioral scientists agree that our attitudes about exercise play a defining role. If we expect exercise to be fun and enjoyable, we often will exercise. If not, we won’t.
How we develop these beliefs about physical activity has been unclear, though. So a group of scientists at Iowa State University in Ames began to wonder recently whether our feelings about moving might have roots in gym classes, which are often the first introduction many of us have to formal exercise.
To find out, they created a specialized and lengthy online questionnaire that asked people to ruminate on and rate their memories of gym class and how they felt about exercise now, using an elaborate numerical scale.
The questionnaire also asked people about their physical activity habits today and how much time they spent in motion or in a chair, especially on weekends.Perhaps most compelling, the online form invited them to describe, in their own words, their single best or worst memory from a P.E. class and write about it in as much detail as they chose.
The researchers posted the questionnaire on a website devoted to academic studies and invited anyone interested to complete the form. They wound up with responses from more than a thousand men and women aged between 18 and 40.
And those memories had long shadows, affecting people’s exercise habits years later. The most consistent associations were between unpleasant memories of P.E. classes and lingering resistance to exercise years later, the researchers found. People who had not enjoyed gym class as children tended to report that they did not expect to like exercise now and did not plan to exercise in the coming days.
People who had found pleasure in gym class, on the other hand, were more likely to report that they expected exercise to be enjoyable and that they were active on weekends. The reasons people gave for enjoying gym — or not — were also telling. Many said that they had hated being chosen late or last for sports teams, or felt embarrassed about bumbling sports performances.
Quite a few also reported discomfort undressing in front of other students, and some described bullying and insults, including from gym teachers.Many also said they had dreaded the fitness tests that are common in P.E. programs.Of course, some people harbored pleasant memories of gym classes, often involving athletic success and competence.
“It was a bit surprising just how strong people’s memories were” of their P.E. classes, says Matthew Ladwig, a graduate student at Iowa State University who conducted the study with Panteleimon Ekkekakis and Spyridoula Vazou.
“For some of them, the classes were two or three decades in the past, but they had not forgotten,” he says, and their memories apparently continued to color their attitudes toward exercise today.
The people involved in this study, though, were a self-chosen group who happened to see the questionnaire, so their responses may not be typical of everyone’s. The results also rely on memories and recall, which can be unreliable. And the findings may have been influenced by reverse causation, meaning that unathletic young people disliked gym class and grew up to be sedentary because they were not athletic, and not because they did not like P.E.
But the results do remind us that how we feel about exercise is important in prompting us to move or remain still and that, in order to instill positive attitudes toward exercise, we may want to rethink some of the emphases in school-based physical education programs, Mr. Ladwig says.
If sports are involved, “choose teams randomly,” he says, and, for younger children, de-emphasize competition altogether, promoting activities like dancing or yoga instead.
Consider, too, downplaying frequent fitness testing, which demoralized so many study respondents, he says. Maybe also offer children more options, including unconventional ones. “Gardening is physical activity and some kids might love it a lot more than team sports,” he says. “It would be great,” he concludes, “if P.E. classes could teach kids that moving is fun.”