Exercise & Attention

The idea that exercise can help us pay attention better might seem a little strange at first. For a lot of us, even the thought of exercise creates a feeling of fatigue and dread. At no part of the exercise fantasy do we picture us feeling more energized, more focused, and more productive.

But…the simple truth is that exercise does improve our attention to details, our memory, our problem solving abilities, and our accuracy on reading and math tasks. This is why some of the smartest teachers in the world will have their students exercise before they take those state mandated “common core” tests.

So, what is exercise?

Turns out, what counts as exercise is not so bad. Exercise is a period of time in which you are doing some kind of activity that raises your resting heart rate by approximately 60 to 80% and keeps that rate for at least 20 minutes. The key component is that you are moving and keeping your heart rate up. That opens the door for a lot of different kinds of activity that could be considered exercise, like bouncing on a trampoline, dancing, fast walking, running, cycling, playing basketball, karate, swimming or jumping rope. It can even include exercises of core muscle groups in which you’re not even running around (like push-ups, sit ups, leg lifts, planks, wall squats, and “mountain climbers”). You just need to keep your heart rate in a “training zone”.

What is a training zone?

The targeted heart rate to qualify for the “training zone” varies depending on age. Here’s how you figure out what your heart rate needs to be in order to “count”. This guide applies to children, teens and adults.

Step 1. Subtract your age from 220
Step 2. Multiply that number by 0.6. That number is the minimum heartbeats per minute
Step 3. Subtract your age from 200 and multiply that number by 0.8. That number is the
maximum (ceiling) heart rate.

So if you’re 40 years old, you’d subtract 40 from 220 (180), multiply that by 0.6 which equals 108. So the lowest heart rate that would count as exercise is 108. The maximum heart rate is 200 minus 40 (160) multiplied by .8, which is 128. So the “ceiling heart rate” is 128. Any activity that increases your heart rate to between 108 and 128 beats per minute would count as exercise. And if you keep that up for 20 minutes and exercise at least 3 times per week, you should begin noticing the benefits.

Have some fun with this…test your progress

You might want to use some type of mental challenge to check out your progress. You could play a memory game like Simon, or Scattegories, or just list as many words in a specific category that begin with a specific letter) and see how you do. You might sit down after exercise and see how many pages you can read and remember, or how well you complete tasks like writing papers for a class or completing paperwork around the house. You could also track your progress by playing brain games on an attention training website (Lumosity; BrainHQ) and track your progress.

Seems like there are immediate boosts in attention and memory for about 1.5 to 2.0 hours after exercise, as well as some gradual improvements over time. Just like you track changes in your physical progress while exercising, it’s good to track your attention progress. Makes it a bit more interesting.

Have other questions? Need more information?

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