Workouts That Boost Your Brainpower with Shawn Stevenson
"Walking increases creative inspiration by 60%."
This week’s podcast is all about the mind-muscle connection—and we welcome special guest Shawn Stevenson!
So many of us work on our physical health—whether that means going to the gym or for a run—without being aware of the brain health benefits we’re receiving. I’m excited to welcome back today’s guest Shawn Stevenson—founder of the Model Health Show Podcast and health expert—to tell us how we can boost our brain potential through quick and simple physical exercises.
Physical training is a powerful way to boost your brainpower and creativity. Simple exercises like push-ups, squats, daily walk, and sprints can help you improve so many aspects of your overall wellbeing and brain function, from sleep to creativity and brain cell production. There’s a lot of confusion out there about strength training, but the truth is that after years of evolution our body needs and expects us to work hard and lift heavy things—and it doesn’t have to mean complicated hours of workouts at the gym!
Regardless of our age and ability, we can train to prevent our physical and mental muscles from atrophying. In the process, we can improve our mental strength, resilience, sleep, mood and cardiovascular health, among countless other health benefits. If you’re looking for a simple and effective plan to improve your body and brain health, today’s podcast is for you.
In this episode, we’ll explain the benefits of strength training and how it is connected to a happier, healthier brain. We’ll walk you through some quick exercises you can incorporate into your day, and explain how your sleep, productivity, and creativity can be improved in a few minutes a day. We’ll also be doing a deep dive into the top four exercises you can start doing today to boost the health of your mind and brain!
- Both our muscles and brain can atrophy over time
- Recent Harvard study: results suggested a strength training regimen caused an improvement in cognitive and functional brain plasticity
- Minimum effective dose was 2x week for strength training, important to be acclimated to it (do it regularly over time) for the most benefit
- The myth of strength training: it will make you bulky—particularly a concern for women. But the food makes us bigger, not strength training!
- Harvard study: strength training provides an opportunity to overcome obstacles in a controlled, predictable environment, which increases your mental resilience
- Human genome: 25,000 genes we share, with different expressions of those genes
- Research emerging that our genes expect us to lift heavy things (e.g. both genders used to transport water in earlier eras), and by not doing this we’re not activating essential programs to keep us mentally and physically strong
EXERCISES YOUR BRAIN CRAVES
1.LIFTING HEAVY THINGS
- Lift heavy things: 2x a week as a bare minimum, ideally 2-4 times a week
- Basic bodyweight exercises: pushups and bodyweight squats
- Can then move on to lifting some heavier weights: exercises like deadlifts with barbells
- Shawn’s experience working in a gym: after prescribing heavy lifting to people experiencing depression he would watch them become mentally stronger as they became physically stronger—trickle down effect through the entire body
- Remember: keeping your workouts fresh keeps your brain fresh
- Proprioception: the body’s ability to monitor and be aware of itself in space—we tend to lose this as we age, resulting in increased risk of falls and fractures
- To improve proprioception: box jumps, jump squats, slacklining, play around as we did as kids stepping between cracks in the pavement, hopping up on ledges, etc.
- Any opportunity to improve your balance will help your brain
- We would have done a lot of these exercises naturally in the past, in trying to avoid danger and hunting and gathering, so we can try to recreate this throughout
- Can make small movements part of daily life
- To improve proprioception: lift one leg off the ground, then try it with one eye closed
- Single leg squats helpful too
- Can make balance exercises part of your life no matter your age or ability—doesn’t have to mean 3 hours at the gym, just incorporate tiny habits into your day!
- Daily walking improves working memory
- We can do them, but are we designed to do heavy deadlifts with barbells? Inconclusive—but out of all the exercises we do, we’re definitely designed to walk
- Stanford study: walking increases creative inspiration by 60%, from just 5-16 minutes of walking! The study found walking increased and improved particular style of creativity called divergent thinking: our ability to view and solve a problem from a wide variety of angles and break out of tunnel vision
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factor: stimulates the growth of new brain cells, keeps your brain functional and healthy
- BDNF is increased by intermittent fasting and movement
- HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING
- High-intensity interval training one of the best ways: intense exercise for 5-10 seconds, or upwards of 30 seconds, then a recovery period
- Martin Gibala’s One-Minute Workout
- Ongoing study testing light cardio of 45-60 minutes against short high-intensity intervals
- Results: same increase in cardiovascular benefit, fax oxidation, mitochondrial growth
BEST TIME TO EXERCISE
- The time we exercise can affect our sleep quality and hormone production
- Appalachian State University study: split exercisers into morning, afternoon and evening periods of exercise
- People who exercised in the morning tended to spend more time in deep sleep, experience a greater drop in blood pressure at night.
Related Kwik Brain Episodes You Might Enjoy
Episode 25: Sleep Smarter, Faster, and Deeper with Shawn Stevenson
Episode 27: How To Sleep (Even) Smarter – Q & A with Shawn Stevenson
Episode 62: What To Eat For Your Brain with Dr. Mark Hyman
Episode 65: Movements that Boost Brain Performance with Aaron Alexander