Critical importance of exercise in brain health and productivity

Brain beside red dumbbells

Owner of West End Crossfit gym, Ellie Bowden was drawn to the black letter of law through a desire to help and give back to her community. As an early career lawyer, Ellie witnessed burnout first-hand, observing as her profession endured long and stressful hours, neglecting their physical and mental health. After working as a legal officer for two reputable organisations, she decided it was time to pivot.

Ellie opened Cultivar Health in July 2019 with the goal of having a direct impact on her community’s physical health. While she is no longer working in a legal capacity, she is driven to promote health and wellbeing, touting their impact on the longevity of the profession. In her Proctor debut, Ellie chronicles the undeniable benefit of physical wellbeing on brain function.

The physical benefits of exercise are widely recognised. We know we should exercise to keep our bodies healthy, but the fact is that it often falls to the bottom of our priority list. Our physical health is pushed to the side and treated as a later problem, one we will get to when we have more time, more money, more motivation.

But your lack of exercise is impacting your brain, and by the time you realise that your brain is declining, it is too late to take action. It is not like gaining and losing weight where you can simply procrastinate.

But you can take action by simply exercising. Run. Cycle. Swim. Dance. Lift weights! All forms of exercise can provide so many brain benefits.

Lessen your risk of cognitive decline

Exercise has been widely proven to lessen your risk of cognitive decline (for example, early onset of Alzheimer’s)[1].

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As lawyers, we play the long game with our careers. You may have short or medium-term goals which involve minor promotions in the next one to five years, but our ultimate goals simply take time, experience and playing the game just right for just long enough.

But without consistent exercise, you run the risk of shortening your career.

This is not a later problem, this can be addressed now. You can start today and actively push back cognitive decline by including even a small amount of activity into your day. Once it becomes a consideration to you, it is too late.

Grow your brain

Growth in the brain as a result of exercise has been compared to that of growth following a crushing brain injury, where enhanced growth occurs in regeneration in certain circumstances[2]. That is to say, your brain will react is a similar fashion to repair your brain as it will if you just move your body.

If you were offered a pill that would stimulate brain growth for free, would you take it?

That pill exists, and it’s easy, free and available to you right now. It’s exercise.

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Increase information retention

Exercising in the morning before work increases your brains ability to retain information and attention, and tackle complex problems. Additionally, it gives you a buffer against the stressors of the day. Similarly, exercising after your work day can assist in lowering your stress levels and aiding in better sleep.

But where do I even start?

Exercise does not need to be complicated. Don’t let exercise add stress to your life when it is supposed to aid in removing it.

Simply start by walking 30 minutes a day, every single day, for four weeks. Walk fast enough that you feel like you couldn’t comfortably hold a conversation. If you can hold a conversation at your fastest walk, start to introduce running. Try one minute of running and one minute of walking for 30 minutes.

If you want to track the impact on your brain, keep a journal which asks questions like “how is my memory today? Do I feel more alert? Do I experience mid-afternoon brain fog?”

Nothing is stopping your from starting today, except your own priority list.

Ellie Bowden is Owner, Manager and CrossFit/Nutrition Coach at Cultivar Health in West End. Ellie was admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland in 2018 and has worked as a legal officer at the ODPP and WorkCover Prosecutions. Ellie is passionate about providing a simple and time-effective solution for busy people to make health and fitness a priority in their lives. You can book a trial session with Ellie by email at ellie@cultivarhealth.com

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[1] Cooper, C 2014, ‘Found Money’ The CrossFit Journal, viewed 20 October 2020, http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_01_2014_Connection_Cooper3.pdf
[2] Huebner, E & Strittmatter, S 2009 ‘Axon Regeneration in the Perepheral and Central Nervous Systems’ National Institutes of Health, viewed 20 October 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846285/pdf/nihms162879.pdf

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