Your Brain on Xercise

Regular exercise boosts your productivity, focus, mood, relationships, and more.

When you exercise, your body creates a vast cascade of chemicals and hormones that change your brain in the short term, but also grows new neurons in the long term for a happier, stronger, better, younger, and more productive you!

Don’t take my word for it though. Let’s a minute and a half to hear what the leading neuroscientist in the field, Wendy Suzuki, has to say about it:

Chemically, exercise causes the body to produce a number of chemicals and hormones that are associated with productivity, focus, mood, relationships, anti-aging, and more. In this post, to keep it simple, I will stick to just three of these chemicals, but there are plenty more.

1. Dopamine is a chemical messenger for neurons (called a neurotransmitter) that is made in the brain and is released when you’re expecting a reward. Dopamine contributes to feelings of alertness, focus, motivation, and happiness. How do those feelings affect your productivity?

2. Endocannabinoids are molecules made by our bodies on an “as needed” basis that help regulate a number of mood and productivity processes in your body.

We’re still learning about endocannabinoids, but a new study found they are responsible for the euphoric runner’s high people often experience when participating in endurance exercise.

This runner’s high – characterized by feelings of euphoria and the absence of anxiety – used to be attributed to the work of endorphins. However, recent studies found that people still experienced runner’s high even when their endorphin receptors were chemically blocked.

As for productivity, how does your workday go when you are feeling euphoric and have reduced anxiety?

3. Endorphins are small neurochemicals with direct actions on your nervous system. These are your natural pain relievers that come to your rescue in response to pain, stress, and other activities – like exercise – to make those activities more tolerable, and/or help you through it.

They act on the opiate receptors in our brain, so while they reduce pain, they also increase pleasure and our sense of wellbeing. Morphine is the synthetic version of this chemical your body naturally produces.

Studies show that endorphins relieve depression, reduce stress and anxiety, and boost self-esteem. This also directly relates to productivity. How? Just ask yourself, “Am I more productive when I’m pain-free, feeling pleasure, and have a high sense of wellbeing, vs. distracted with pain, depressed, and doubtful?

The Social and Focus Benefits of Exercise

1. Feelings of trust and togetherness – When we exercise with others, we actually get more pleasure from being around them. A 2018 study looked at 191 older couples for 14 days and found that on days when people exercised, more positive marital events were reported, as was a higher daily marital satisfaction.

When you exercise with a workout buddy or with a group, you develop a closeness that causes you to see those people as sources of support. That’s why people tend to follow a fitness “tribe” like Peloton or form corporate group workouts at X Gym.

Whether you exercise with your co-workers or not, how do you think exercise might benefit your relationships at work? Arent “team-building” activities all about fostering trust and togetherness? Well, here’s a shortcut to get that now, even by yourself, without the expensive and time-consuming company activities and retreats (although those still are great).

2. Boosting confidence – The relationship between exercise and self-esteem has also been widely studied. Confidence and self-esteem are related to each other, but they aren’t exactly the same. Confidence is a belief in one’s abilities, and self-esteem is a belief about our sense of self. People with high self-esteem tend to be confident as well.

The more we exercise, the more confidence and self-esteem we build. In fact, exercise literally re-wires your brain for both! This has further benefits as well by empowering you to take on other challenges in your work and life by causing you to feel more optimistic and connected to a community and others around you.

3. Openness and Focus – When you exercise, your mood and underlying anxiety – even feelings of depression – are impacted right away. This is because your brain state changes to become more open and aware of yourself and your surroundings, much like when you meditate.

Think of it as the harmonizing of your mind and body. You find anchors for your attention with physical movement and your focus narrows to occupy only the present moment.

How would increased focus with a more open mind affect your productivity?

When you exercise, you are training both your brain and body together. Typically, a good mood will go into effect in just five minutes or less after starting some form of moderate exercise. It doesn’t have to be high intensity either. Even a brisk walk counts!

Since exercise also grows new neurons, it literally makes your brain bigger and smarter, due to the chemical BDNF. For a deeper dive into that, click here to see my other post.

How would a bigger and smarter brain help your productivity?

Where to start? How about a slow walk?

No time for exercise? No motivation for even moderate intensity? That’s OK too because even a slow walk will begin to show you the truly magical brain benefits mentioned here.

While light exercise might not release all the chemicals described above, walking has been shown to turn on your creativity and open your mind to more possibilities due to the activation of the front part of your brain, called the prefrontal cortex, where forethought, rational thinking, creativity, and willpower are found.

It’s addicting too, as you start to feel this for yourself, which usually causes a snowball effect, helping you build momentum toward gradually increasing your intensity, not just from desire, but also from your improved capacity and tolerance built through starting slow and small.

Got writer’s block? Can’t think of a solution for a problem? Need to clear your mind of stress or ruminating thoughts? TAKE A WALK!

Do you have a stressful meeting planned with someone? Are they set in their ways? Do they have trouble opening their mind to new possibilities? TAKE THEM FOR A “MEETING WALK!”

Is there a difficult conversation/confrontation you need to have with someone? DO IT ON A WALK!

Is there an important phone call coming up where you know having an open mind would make it go better? TAKE THAT CALL DURING A WALK!

And then let this new habit move you toward establishing a regular exercise habit to unlock your productivity superpowers with better decisions, less stress, and more focus!

P.S. If you want to instantly unlock more of your secret, hidden, and unique superpowers for productivity and brain benefits, including your top custom health and fitness hacks, consider taking my brain type test! Click here to learn more about that very quick and easy next step to becoming YOU 2.0!