Cardiovascular exercise is good for blood flow, which benefits the body and the brain.
Research shows that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain involved in learning and verbal memory. Exercise can also positively affect your mood, self-esteem, memory and your brain’s ability to focus and concentrate. Strength training and yoga can even decrease depression symptoms.
With all that in mind (pun intended), even a short morning fitness routine focusing on science-backed benefits could help you kick your brain into high gear each day.
Crank up your cardio
Hopping on the elliptical or going for a jog definitely provides brain benefits, but according to one study, cardio in the form of dance shows even more benefits. Not only does dancing increase hippocampal volume, but it also increases brain regions linked with neuroplasticity. This means that there’s an increase in the neural networks’ ability to change their connections and behavior in response to sensory stimulation or new information.
To start the day, I recommend my weight loss clients crank up their favorite song to wake up their mind and their body. Get out of bed and start off your morning fitness routine by dancing to your favorite song for a few minutes. Move your arms, legs and hips to loosen up and bust out a few dance moves in the privacy of your own home.
Outside of your morning fitness routine, think about attending cardio dance classes like Zumba instead of hopping on the treadmill.
Strengthen your body & your brain
At the end of your favorite song, it’s time for a basic strength training move to wake up your muscles and your mind. Strength training can be done in the form of body weight exercises, exercises on fitness equipment, or with bands, fitness balls or dumbbells. Resistance training has been shown to improve focus and cognitive function in as few as one to two strength training sessions a week. Other research links strength training to a reduction in anxiety.
So how can you get a jump start on this first thing in the morning? Do a basic squat and arm reach to train your entire body. Open your feet as wide as your hips, pull your naval in toward your spine, and then squat down as if you’re about to sit in a chair. As you squat down, swing your arms straight up and overhead. Press down through your heels to stand up, and bring the arms back down to your sides. Repeat this 20 times.
In addition to your morning routine, add a strength training exercise two or three days per week of into your workouts. For example, 10 side lunges on each side will strengthen the lower body. For a modification, only lower into a half lunge on each side. Next, walk your hands forward into a plank position with shoulders over the wrists. Hold the plank for 10 seconds or perform 10 push-ups. If push-ups in this position are too challenging, you can lower onto your knees to do them. Finally, lie on the ground with your legs up toward the ceiling and then lower them down a few inches, then back up. This will work your abs and the core. Lower your legs further toward the floor to increase difficulty. Repeat this three-move circuit three times during your next workout.
Get your Zen on
Finally, to wrap up your morning routine, center yourself with a breathing and movement routine. A recent study found that participants who connected breath to yoga postures showed significant improvements in their sustained attention compared to those who didn’t focus on breathing. However, all yoga practitioners in the study exhibited a reduction in perceived stress and better attention span.
So, for your final move in the morning fitness routine, we’ll stand up tall after you’ve completed your 20 squats. Press down through all 10 toes and your feet. Inhale as you reach your arms out to the side and up toward the ceiling, press your palms together and exhale as you bring the palms down through the center of your chest.
Repeat this 10 times, linking your breath with each movement. Inhale to reach the arms up, and exhale to bring the palms together down through the center of the chest.
After a few weeks of doing this morning fitness routine, change it up!
Research shows that learning something new is another way to keep your brain sharp. In fact, in one study researchers found that participants who learned a new skill experienced improvement in the memory tests within the study.
So take this morning routine fitness formula: cardio, strength training and breathing with yoga, and look up new exercises for each category to keep your mind and body on your toes.