The link between mind and body is complex. We all know that sport is good for you. How many people know that ergonomic considerations may influence the quality of your thinking and creativity? Today we want to address a different side of the mind-body link. Live long and prosper. Today I selected posts from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Usually, when I write I leverage my strengths. Today is different, and I am talking from my pain. I was never physically strong, and my posture was bad for as long as I can remember – I had years of physical therapy and my posture is still bad. A have been practicing yoga and meditation for many years, so my back is not killing me. It is not really clear what I could achieve if I was more physically fit. For sure, I want my kids to be good not just in math and music, but also in sports. My biggest boy is developing some weight issues, but other than that my kids are as athletic as I wish I could be in their age.
How you sit affect how you think
Our body language affects several functions of the body. The breathing and circulation of oxygen change. Our body produces different sorts of hormones. The biological feedback between body language and personal opinion changes.
Our brain burns a lot of oxygen, so if we want to have effective brain activity we need to open up our chest for the air to flow. The spine should be direct and reclined slightly backward, and the hands should be open. However, when we use a computer with a keyboard, especially laptop or a mobile device, we typically take the opposite posture. We tend to incline toward the screen, curve the back, and close the hands in front of us on the keyboard. Clearly, our brain gets less oxygen this way. Of cause, there are simple remedies like big screens and ergonomic angles, breathing exercises and stretches, but how often do you see anyone use these simple tools?
The hormones we need to think effectively are the hormones associated with hunting: high alertness, high mobility, hands posed to action. In the office environment, we produce hormones of sleepiness. Our body becomes almost jelly-like in a comfortable chair, our position is the least dominating position we can imagine. We would probably fall asleep if the lights were less intense and the air conditioning not so strong. This is especially evident in the meeting rooms, where people doodle to stay awake and comprehend the situation. By all means, do not stop doodling, because then you will lose half of the discussions you can still follow.
Positive body language
Not everything in the office environment is wrong. For example, we use a lot of positive body language. When we talk with our colleagues we tend to nod a lot. This is a great thing. As we nod, we become more positive towards the people and the ideas they express.
In warmer countries, people tend to be expressive and follow their words with body language. People who “talk with their hands” breath better, move more, generate good hormones and otherwise feel better about themselves when talking. Typically the downside of such culture is having multiple people trying to talk at the same time about things that are unrelated to the main topic.
We also know that some sort of expression reduces the pain. For example, shouting reduces the pain people feel. Probably it has something to do with our body producing adrenaline.
Thus it is probably much better for you to work with other people, possibly arguing in the meeting rooms, than quietly sitting at home near the computer.
Being a manager or working at home allows you plenty of opportunities to walk around. This is a great thing. We are supposed to walk around an hour per day. Most of us do not walk that much, and the toll on our body is huge.
The best thing about being a manager is not a greater paycheck or status, but the ability to move between the meeting rooms and the work desks of the colleagues. Managers are constantly under the pressure to provide guidelines and feedbacks to multiple people in multiple locations. Simply walking between these locations generates physical activity.
A person who stays at home also gets many opportunities to walk. She can clean the house and do the chores. She can take an hour to go to the gym or to walk around the block to the coffee shop and back. She needs to take care of kids and shopping anyway.
A person who is, for example, a programmer in a big company, at work has a chance to go to the coffee machine, toilets and cafeteria. Then he drives home, and at home falls helpless on his couch. Unless he sleeps less and uses this time before or after the sleep for a workout, the physical activity is limited and not encouraged.
Ideally, we would need to get a short nap during the day. Many countries offer siesta when you can simply nap after lunch. Generally napping is good for you, however there are some limitations.
The Asian habit of napping on your hands at your working desk is not very healthy for your back and your hands. It also does not allow for good breathing. If you work at home or near home, or have an executive position and a couch, do use the couch.
In theory, there should be more than one nap during the day, around 20 min per nap. Naps shorter than 20 min or longer than an hour are less appropriate for our bodies and mess up our internal clocks.
As getting the nap just right is complex for most of us, maybe it is best to skip the nap. Also, we are not getting enough sun during the day, so ideally it would be best to get some short walk or quiet meditation outdoors if the campus allows.
We all know that we need to exercise. Some people feel they do not live unless they exercise, others feel they want to die when they do. There are certain tradeoffs for those of us who do not really like to exercise.
Something like walking is very healthy and can be done with other family members. 50 min trip around the block with the loved ones is a great quality time.
If we do not have time to exercise normally, we can do some short high-intensity exercise in the gym. It can be over in 20 min. Not the healthiest form of exercise, yet typically quite effective.
When we do not like the sweat of the exercise, we can swim in the pool. Swimming is very healthy and kind of fun.
For tired and aching bodies, yoga is great. Flexibility exercises fix many issues and reduce the risks of traumas.
Any amount of physical activity is better than none. Not sure I understand all the relevant factors. From what I understand, increasing blood flow and a stronger immune system boost mental activity.
Agility training is especially good for your brain. The agility training improves neural activity in the cerebellum and vagus nerve, which in turn improves both creativity and productivity.
If you have enough coordination, practice martial arts or juggling. With my kids, I encouraged them to learn music and play piano, guitar, bass. Even video games can train mental agility.
Training agility at young age is easy, but as we get older physical training gets harder. I do not really see why video games and tai chi cannot be practiced at any age. Definitely, there is more time for it.
Your body on exercise
Many people prefer endurance exercise, as they get enough time to think and visualize quietly.
The most important effect of the exercise is on how our body handles the oxygen, and to which extent we get tired. I quote:
Regular endurance exercise leads to four major consequences:
Increased ability of the heart to eject blood
Increased ability of the blood vessels to send blood to where blood is needed
Increased number of capillaries (the vessels that deliver oxygen and ‘food’ to the muscles)
Increased size and the number of mitochondria (the “power plants” of the cells).
All these changes lead to the more efficient use of oxygen, as well as nutrients.
Personally, I cannot handle endurance exercises. Only one of my 3 kids feels good with endurance training. I wonder what science has to say about that.
To which extent can we control our physical shape? I quote:
The higher the heritability, the more you can blame genes, rather than training, for the difference between a couch potato and a star athlete.
Aerobic fitness: about 40-50% heritable
Strength and muscle mass: about 50-60% heritable
Your mix of “slow twitch” and “fast twitch” muscle fibers (basically, whether your muscles are better at endurance or sprinting): about 45% heritable
Height: about 80% heritable
Competing in sports, at all: 66% heritable.
Quite possibly we will train and see no effect, or not the effect we expected. It is crucial to find the activities which are not only healthy but also enjoyable, otherwise, we might get disappointed.
The focus ideally should be on the training itself, and not the various perks which come with athletic buildup.
The sports that do more harm than good
There are some evolutionary advantages for the couch potato. Otherwise, we would all be fit. What are they?
First of all, we preserve more energy. This means we can eat less and be fine with it, or survive long periods of hunger using our body fat. Unfortunately, today this is mus less relevant than it was for thousands of years of human history.
Our slower metabolism may potentially result in longer life, especially if we do not overeat. This is good for people whos work is relaxed. Good luck staying mentally active and functioning for 18 hours without nourishment.
Excessive sport leads to traumas, as the body does not heal. Going to the gym 7 days a week, and working out for more than an hour each day will probably have a toll on most bodies. Running a marathon will also be hard on your body. People used to high stress often cannot focus in the “slow” office environment.
Moderation is the key to any physical activity. Also, if time allows, it is best to combine different kinds of exercises rather than specialize in one.
Exercise improves mood, and reduces stress levels. Mainly it is the body’s way to deal with the stress of exercising. It releases the endorphins and other “feel good” hormones.
The endorphins also can improve focus and control over cravings, which is great.
The grit and mental focus required for the exercise improves the relevant paths in ones’ brain, increasing the ability to focus otherwise.
These factors are not common to all exercises, and not specific for exercise when compared with some other activities, like meditation or playing musical instruments. Yet, if you stop exercising, you will probably notice degradation in all of these factors.
Quite often quitting physical training is worse than not starting it to begin with. Our bodies are used to high metabolism and we can get fat. The mood will suffer because we will not release as many endorphins. We will also feel depressed due to failing. The worsening mood may affect our posture. It is a vicious cycle.
So possibly the most important thing when training is avoiding traumas and not quitting. One of the reasons low-intensity exercises are better than high-intensity exercises is the reduced risk of traumas and mood-related quitting. Being a part of a group reduces the chances of quitting due to peer pressure.