Jul 31

Exercise As Therapy: John Medina, John J. Ratey

It turns out that physical exercise isn’t just about watching the Summer Olympics. It’s also something just about everyone can and should do. Scientist John Medina states the following about the first of his 12 “brain rules” (USA Today):

Exercise boosts brain power. Humans adapted during evolution by constantly moving (both to get food and to avoid predators). Medina says we think better in motion. He suggests that people might be more productive if they spent some of the working day (separate from the gym) on treadmills. Another provocative idea: ‘Board meetings might be conducted while people walked 2 miles per hour,’ he writes.

Medina also states that symptoms of depression and anxiety can decrease via workouts. In fact, it’s likely that a combination of therapy and exercise is equally as effective as a combination of antidepressant medication and therapy. According to one study, both combos are 80% successful. He recommends regular aerobic exercise two or three times a week for 30 minutes; and adding a strength training component can further boost cognitive functions.

There are scientific explanations for our workouts positively affecting mood and anxiety levels, of course, one of which has something to do with increased blood flow to the brain and other body parts. Exercise can also stimulate BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), a growth factor in the brain that aids in neuron health and development. John J. Ratey, M.D., author of the 2008 book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain calls BDNF “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”

For more info that supports Medina’s, investigate Dr. Ratey’s book. Its description says it was “the first book to explore comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain,” and observes that Ratey shows that “exercise is truly our best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to aggression to menopause to Alzheimer’s.”

A sample quote from Spark: “Studies show that if researchers exercise rats that have been chronically stressed, that activity makes the hippocampus grow back to its preshriveled state. The mechanisms by which exercise changes how we think and feel are so much more effective than donuts, medicines, and wine. When you say you feel less stressed out after you go for a swim, or even a fast walk, you are.”

Jul 27

Multitasking a Myth: John Medina, “Brain Rules”

The brain cannot multitask. Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time…To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing information-rich inputs simultaneously…Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors. John Medina

In developmental molecular biologist John Medina‘s book Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (2008), he talks about the myth of multitasking. It’s, in fact, something we’re “biologically incapable” of doing.

The following advice is taken directly from his blog: “The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes. Try creating an interruption-free zone during the day—turn off your e-mail, phone, IM program, or BlackBerry—and see whether you get more done.”

By the way, Medina’s 12 “brain rules” for “surviving and thriving at work, home, and school” are listed below in the order he gives them in the book:

  1. Exercise boosts brain power.
  2. The human brain evolved too.
  3. Every brain is wired differently.
  4. We don’t pay attention to boring things.
  5. Repeat to remember.
  6. Remember to repeat.
  7. Sleep well, think well.
  8. Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
  9. Stimulate more of the senses.
  10. Vision trumps all other senses.
  11. Male and female brains are different.
  12. We are powerful and natural explorers.

Guess which of the 12 rules Medina thinks “are most important to the average person?” Medina readily will say they’re exercise, stress, and sleep.

And, of those three, which two particularly affect our emotional well-being (more than the excluded one)? Exercise and stress. Although lost sleep also does a number on us, Medina places more emphasis on its possible effects on learning.