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How Neuroscientists Explain the Mind-Clearing Magic of Running

Mindlessness

Mindlessness

Mindlessness - daydreaming, or getting lost in your own thoughts - is as important as mindfulness. The mind wanders because it produces a reward when measured against goals and aspirations that are personally meaningful.

Just because the benefits of losing yourself in your own thoughts are not easily measured doesn't mean they're not of value.

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How Neuroscientists Explain the Mind-Clearing Magic of Running

How Neuroscientists Explain the Mind-Clearing Magic of Running

https://www.thecut.com/2016/04/why-does-running-help-clear-your-mind.html

thecut.com

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Key Ideas

A clear mind

Running never fails to clear your head. Do you have to make a potentially life-altering decision? Go for a run. Are you feeling mad or sad? Go for a run.

A run can sometimes make you feel like a brand-new person. Research in neuroscience found a link between aerobic exercise and subsequent cognitive clarity.

Exercise and improved memory

Neuroscience used to think that our brains got a set amount of neurons. However, studies in animal models show that new neurons are produced in the brain throughout the lifespan.

Vigorous aerobic exercise - about 30 to 40 minutes - is the only activity that triggers the birth of those new neurons. The new neurons are created in the region of the brain associated with learning and memory, partially explaining the link between aerobic exercise and improvement in memory.

The brain’s frontal lobe

Increased activity is seen in the brain’s frontal lobe after adopting a long-term habit of physical activity. After about 30 - 40 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, studies have recorded increased blood flow in this region, which is associated with clear thinking: planning ahead, focus and concentration, goal-setting, time management.

This area is also linked to emotion regulation, allowing us to recover faster from emotions.

Mindlessness

Mindlessness - daydreaming, or getting lost in your own thoughts - is as important as mindfulness. The mind wanders because it produces a reward when measured against goals and aspirations that are personally meaningful.

Just because the benefits of losing yourself in your own thoughts are not easily measured doesn't mean they're not of value.

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Exercise, but get the timing right

When you want to learn something in particular, then physical effort does seem to help, at least in the short-term. 

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Running benefits
Running outperforms walking, cycling and other forms of aerobic exercise when it comes to lengthening life. Runners on average live three years longer compared to non-runners.
Overtraining

If you suffer from lower-body aches or strains, it could be an indication you're not giving yourself enough rest.

Excessive endurance exercise, especially during middle-age and beyond, could lead to damage to the heart.

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To avoid injury, focus on the perception of effort, not duration.

At least twice a week, exercise at a greater intensity. Alternate between hard and easy days to give your body a chance to recover.

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  • Studies show that brains of adults and elders can learn a new language just as a child could, provided they get the opportunity and are not inhibited towards making mistakes.

A child's brain is indeed completely raw, known as 'Tabula Rasa' and they can find it easier to master certain skills of perception, but at the same time, adults have the advantage of analysis, self-reflection and greater discipline.

Psychological Barriers

The barrier to learning in adults may consist of preconceived notions, negativity or lack of confidence.
Older adults also underestimate the power of their own memories, reinforcing the belief that they cannot learn or remember, and making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Education has no age limit, and older adults need to break these psychological barriers to learning, leading to profound benefits and a sharper mind.

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  • Improve your diet. Fats from food can build up the brain, resulting to poor blood flow.
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Childhood amnesia

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The early childhood brain

From birth to our early teens, we have far more links between brain cells. The excess brain mass is very adaptable and allows children to learn very quickly.

But the adaptability comes with a price. The large and complex network in the brain is still busy growing and not as capable of forming memories efficiently as in adulthood. Consequently, long-term memories created in our first three years of life are the least stable and prone to be forgotten as we age.

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Your brain can be changed

Neuroscience has shown that the adult brain remains malleable throughout life.

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How to control a wandering mind

To change anything in the brain, you have to focus your attention on the task at hand. However, most find it challenging to concentrate for long periods of time without daydreaming.

Curb your wandering mind by working out the cause for the wandering. Procrastination is a psychological coping mechanism that kicks in during times of stress.

Brain target
  • The default mode network of our brain, responsible for mind-wandering and creativity, needs to be turned down when we want to work for any length of time.  
  • The brain's dorsal attention network - the part that helps us make decisions and focus on a task - moves into action when we are deliberately focusing on a task.

When people are less able to focus for any length of time, they are leaning more heavily on the left hemisphere of their brain, while the right hemisphere is not working as hard as it should be working.

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Overthinking

It  means overanalyzing something that happened, regretting an action, or worrying about the future of something. 

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Overthinking and action

If you're overthinking an idea you can actually do something about, the best thing you can do is take action now.

This doesn't mean you have to suddenly run off to make something, it just means you start taking a step forward. We tend to overthink because we fear failure, but if we just start working, that dissipates quickly

Break the circle of overthinking:
  • Relabel the ideas you're overthinking ("self-doubt," "anxiety," etc)
  • Reframe your experience and identify your thinking errors
  • Refocus your attention on the part that matters
  • Revalue your brain's messages with the new information