This is the fourth in our series of five blogs (Focus, Connect, Nourish, Move and Sleep) exploring key activities to help us optimize our cognitive ability during uncertain times. We share simple, scientifically proven ways to build our capacity to grow from our experiences.

When we’re active, we do more than relieve stress and feel better. Our body gets stronger – yes, but so does our brain! Exercise triggers our brain to repair, recover, remember and grow.

Heart health: Moving our body every day is key to thriving! Our ancient ancestors had to walk about 10km every day just to find food. We are designed to move – not sit! Physical activity stimulates heart health: working like a beta-blocker medication to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure (at rest and also when exercising). High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Lower inflammation: Just 20-minutes a day of physical activity can reduce chronic inflammation. Over time, this can improve glucose management, fat metabolism and immune function. Our body is then better prepared to combat illness and recover from injury.

Lower stress: Stress is an inevitable part of life, and most of us have techniques to manage it. Being active helps lower the impact of stress by changing our brain chemistry. The increase in endorphin chemicals in the brain act as natural painkillers, sleep aids and pleasure boosters. They don’t call it the ‘runner’s high’ for nothing!

Brain health: Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to increase learning performance and productivity. Dr. John Ratey’s research shows that when we get physical, it increases brain cell production, called neurogenesis, in our Hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that houses our long term memory. By helping our brain create new neurons we can help lift depression symptoms and delay cognitive decline.  An intense workout increases the brain’s production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor – or BDNF for short – a naturally occurring growth hormone that is said to be like Miracle-Gro fertilizer for the brain! Just 30 minutes a day is all it takes to boost new cell growth, memory and learning performance.

Making a commitment to exercise and daily movement is easiest with activities you enjoy. Whether it’s a brisk walk in nature, a bike ride, dance class or yoga—your body and mind will benefit.

Leaders can help their team members to stay active: Model how movement is integrated into your day, even when adapted during the pandemic; demonstrate how you block out time for exercise on your calendar; encourage others to be active; nominate a team ‘coach’ to be a movement champion to inspire/motivate others; incorporate a standing/moving meeting as part of the work team routine; and, get fresh air every day and check in to see how others are doing this safely. Moving is natural. Boost your activity level to function better and live well, longer!