Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
No matter what exercise routine you choose, use the time to meditate. You may wonder how marathon runners are able to put so many miles on their bodies. It’s because the pain from running that you avoid is something they’ve learned to harness to enter a transcendental state. If you’re aware of the benefits of meditation and exercise but don’t have time to do both, you can combine them, killing two birds with one healthy stone.
Step forward with the left foot and lower into a lunge, keeping the front knee behind the toe. Push into the heel to step back and immediately step out to the left and into a squat. Press back to start and take the left leg back into a reverse lunge, again keeping the front knee behind the toe. Bring the left leg back to start and repeat for all reps before switching sides.
FIT TIP: If you exercised on an empty or almost-empty stomach, you're probably feeling light-headed or even nauseated or headachy. Your immediate food fix: A high-carb nosh, like a banana or half a bagel, will refuel you and kick-start your recovery. And don't forget to drink plenty of water with your snack. Intense or long workouts can leave you dehydrated.
Begin with a free weight in your right hand. Rest your left hand and bent left leg on the exercise bench. Your left hand should be directly under your left shoulder so it supports your body. Bend your right hand while holding the free weight, making sure your back is straight and your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Form a 90-degree angle between your forearm and your upper arm. Keep your head up and your neck straight.
You’ll find planks among Ceasar Barajas‘, Jessica Muenster’s, and Amanda Murdock’s favorites exercises to do with no equipment. Murkdock (who recommends “planks all day long”— ouch) says that they work the entire body, can be done anywhere, and have a lot of variations. Muenster specifically favors plank jacks with palm-to-elbow movement because they also raise your heart rate.
Take a towel—technically not gear!—and run it underneath the seat of a chair—also technically not gear!—and, with the back of the chair facing away from you, do a set of biceps curls. This works only with standard, four-legged chairs in the 10-to-15 pound range, although if you can figure out how to manage it with your caster-mounted office chair, more power to you.)
Commit to a 7-day meal plan. Create a 7-day meal plan that covers 3 main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), scheduled at the same time of day, and 2 small snacks (between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner), scheduled at the same time of day. A set meal plan will ensure you eat at a consistent time every day and do not skip or miss a meal. Consuming about 1,400 calories a day, combined with exercise, can help you to achieve healthy weight loss.