Exercise is an important part of our daily routine, because you can’t be your best if you aren’t in peak physical condition. But the benefits of exercise extend well beyond general health and physical appearance. Exercise has the power to boost mood, improve sleep and increase focus. How does exercise do all that and help us concentrate? Researchers theorize exercise helps us ignore distractions, allowing us to better allocate our attention.
Last year readers enjoyed learning about four exercises that increase focus so much that we decided to follow it up with more ways to build your mental muscles. This time around we’re taking a look at physical activities that can have a positive impact on our ability to concentrate.
Focusing Exercise #1 – Yoga
If you don’t have the best balance it’s easy to see how yoga would increase your ability to focus. Each pose, some of which aren’t easy even for experienced yogi, must be held for a certain amount of time, which forces you to concentrate on how your body is positioned. In just a few sessions you’ll be much more aware of how your body moves and the increased mindfulness can be used to increase focus at work.
Focusing Exercise #2 – Tai Chi
Tai Chi is another physical form of mindfulness that’s actually considered a mind-body exercise. The flowing poses slowly move from one to the next in a particular way so that once the motor sequence is learned you can turn your attention inward instead of outward. Tai Chi training is only recently being studied in the Western world, but it’s already proving to be an effective way to improve attentional focus.
Focusing Exercise #3 – Running
Many long distance runners will tell you that going for miles is a situation of mind over matter. You have to push past the physical distractions telling you to give it a rest. Beyond that, aerobic exercise has also been shown to increase oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive function. For the last 30 years, studies have proven cardio training can increase alertness and attention. If running is a little too difficult try speed walking instead. Who knows? If you get really good at it, you might try your hand at race walking.
Focusing Exercise #4 – Swimming
One of the keys to swimming is focused breathing. Without it you’ll quickly be panting instead of swimming. Counting strokes is another element that helps you focus on the task at hand and filter out distractions. Just like running, swimming is a form of cardio that has the power to shape the brain and how we think. Swimming is so effective, people with ADHD (like Michael Phelps) are now using the dopamine-boosting exercise as way to improve focus.
Focusing Exercise #5 – Boxing
In boxing if you lose your focus for even a second it can have physical repercussions. Boxers are taught to hone in on the slightest movement made by their opponent to anticipate their next move. After a few rounds of training you’ll find yourself focusing on minute details and how each muscle moves so you can know when to bob and weave around the ring. You can apply this same intensity when your gloves are off and on the job.
Focusing Exercise #6 –Time Blocking
Scheduling your workout time is just as important as the exercises you choose. You have to make the commitment to yourself by making exercise a priority on your calendar.
- Try to schedule your workouts so that they happen at the same time each day. This makes it easier to build a good habit.
- Make use of the increased focus you’ll gain by scheduling workout sessions one to two hours before you need to concentrate on a difficult cognitive task.
- Schedule workouts when there are no other distractions.
- Factor in time for travel, changing into workout gear, etc.
Want to take your time blocking skills to the next level? Then join the Time Block Mastery course to learn how to maximize each day.