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When you’re traveling, your movement routine can easily take a back seat. You know that you can get back to it once you’re home and your fitness won’t be affected. But movement isn’t only beneficial for your physical health. In this article, I share an evidence-based, unspoken benefit of movement.

Are you a let-it-all-go-er?

It’s common for people to drop their movement routine during a work trip. You don’t want to carry extra luggage around and your fitness will withstand the lack of exercise for a week or two. It will. But if you’re dropping your movement routine completely, then you’re missing out an unspoken health benefit . 

Have you heard people say, “you look great, are you working out!?” It’s common to hear about the benefits of exercise on your physical health. It’s the easiest dot to connect. If you work your core, your muscle cells increase, expanding your core muscles and you look more toned.   

It’s less likely that a colleague turns to you after a meeting and says, “you’re really sharp today, are you working out?” Yet the evidence that exercise improves brain function is here.  

The science: the unspoken benefit of movement 

In 2019 a randomised clinical control trial studied the impact of exercise on brain function. Researchers assigned 132 adults between the ages of 20-67 to either a stretching/ toning or aerobic movement. 

There have been other studies that investigated the impact of exercise on brain function. However, these studies had a sample size, and none included a randomly assigned control group.

Over a period of six months, they trained four times per week. After a standard 10-15 minute warm up, each group trained for 30-40 minutes. The aerobic group focused on exercises that increased their heart rate (HR) to 55%-65% of max HR initially, and then increased their intensity to 65%-75% in later weeks. 

The stretching/toning group focused on improving flexibility and strength in all muscle groups, including the core. 

The significant results of aerobic movement

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.

John F. Kennedy

Aerobic capacity, BMI, and various brain function measures were taken. They found that:

  • Aerobic capacity increased 
  • BMI decreased 

This study contributed new findings on the effects of aerobic exercise on cognition and the brain in several ways: 

  • Executive function improved 
    • Moderated by age, indicating that aerobic exercise is more likely to improve age-related declines
  • Cortical thickness improved in the left frontal region 

Importantly, these benefits were seen in the aerobic exercise group only and not in the stretching/ toning group. 

Let the unspoken benefit feature in your resilience toolkit 

I’m reminded of a client who was about to pitch a project plan to a new client. The stakes were high. They could easily ask her to go back to the drawing board and redo large chunks of her work if they were unhappy. She had put in so much effort – what if she couldn’t pull it off? Her inner critic let loose in the privacy of her mind and it wasn’t pretty.

She realised she needed to shift. After just 10 minutes of HIIT and a quick shower, she arrived on the call with focus and mental clarity. Her presentation went smoothly, but the worst was still to come when they opened the floor for questions. One hurdle done, a higher one ahead. She needed to listen accurately, be creative in her answers and flexible with their suggestions.

It worked. She could calmly answer their questions as they drilled her about the project choices she had made. Finally, she left the meeting with a nod of approval from her client and renewed confidence in her own ability to create and present her work.  

She was shocked at the upward spiral that exercise helped her to create. She knew she had other things to acknowledge herself for that contributed to her success. Her hard work and determination. But noticing her racing mind before the meeting and acting on it was crucial to shift her anxiety into confidence. Exercise is now an integral part of her resilience toolkit.

“But I’m too old”

If you’re thinking that you’re past your peak physical fitness age and so it’s not worth the effort, it still is! The effect of aerobic exercise on executive function was more pronounced as age increased, suggesting that it may mitigate age-related declines. Exercise is in the recipe for longevity, and we have good research to show it.

Lean into your movement routine

Next time you’re traveling, know that your exercise routine is not only good for your physical health but also your brain function. The easiest way to activate the unspoken benefit of movement – your cognitive function is to prioritise movement as you would an important business meeting. Don’t leave yourself hanging! 

Look out for my next article that will give you a 5 item checklist to go through before you travel to safeguard your movement routine.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about other benefits of movement and the World Health Organisation exercise recommendations, take a look at this article.