Brawn begets brain?

Tuesday was a cool day. We tried something new over at Custom Strength. Something different. We held our staff meeting over a workout.

Meetings are tough no matter where you work. They are necessary, but sometimes they drag on. And on. Sometimes, it’s really tough to keep interested. By the end of a 90 minute meeting, is anyone really still paying attention? For the few that may still have an ounce of attention span left, is there any quality brain activity going on?

This is why I decided to try the workout staff meeting. Of course it helps that we’re a personal training company. I mean, working out is part of what we do. But we still have business and administrative needs like any other company. And we have a need to make our time more useful, which means better staff meetings. In my opinion most (all?) staff meetings suffer two big problems:

  1. They bore the crap out of people to the extent that I think their brains actually stop functioning completely.
  2. They are way too long. And I mean wwwwwaaaaaaaaayyyyyy toooooo looooong.

Enter neuroplasticity research.

What’s that?

Well! Let me share something awesome with you.

Neuroplasticity is a relatively new field of research relating to the changeability of the brain. It has yielded some incredible results in recent years, possibly the most important is the realization that we actually develop new brain cells. Prior to this research, it was largely believed that we are born with all of our brain cells and from that moment forward, we are just killing them off, a few million at a time. Not so, says the new research! And there’s more: studies suggest that exercise can develop new brain cells.  How cool is that???? So not only is exercise good for:

  • maintaining (achieving) a healthy weight
  • cardiac health
  • reducing the risk of diabetes
  • feeling great
  • having more energy
  • looking marvelous
  • improving posture
  • building strength, power and flexibility
  • retarding the loss of strength, power and flexibility that comes with age (“By age 65, a 20% reduction in strength is normal, with losses tending to occur even more rapidly thereafter.”[1])
  • reducing neck and back pain associated with desk jobs

It now turns out that in addition to all of those incredible things, exercise also makes you smarter! Studies over the last decade have shown that exercise (both aerobic and strength training) increase cognitive ability and even slow the development of dementia. Oh, and it seems acute bouts of exercise (when else is an acute bout a good thing?) can result in immediate increases in alertness. [2], [3], [4], [5]

Increased alertness from exercise, eh? So I have to ask: why isn’t everyone doing workout staff meetings?

Logistics of our first workout staff meeting:
The “meeting room” (the gym) was booked for 75 minutes: 60 minutes of workout and then 15 minutes to wrap up and note specific actions. I had a short agenda (5 items) ahead of time, although just on my ipad. Next time, I’ll put it up on the blackboard (which will necessitate applying a few coats of the blackboard paint on the part of the wall designated as a blackboard), so that we can see it easily. I think that will help with the flow of the discussion as we work out. It was a very simple plan, and I think it worked out very well. It took a bit for us to transition from chatting to work talk, but that’s true of most meetings. The difference here, is that I don’t think any of us were thinking “what a waste of my time” while that chit chat happened, because we were getting our workout in.

We started to talk shop partway through our warmup, and it flowed pretty nicely. at the 60 minute mark (maybe it was 65), we stopped and moved into the wrap up where we actually took notes. I had clients coming in at the 75 minute mark, so we couldn’t continue. Whatever we couldn’t finish in that time, we’ll cover next time or via phone/email throughout the week (that’s a concept I just adopted from one of my clients).

Now I should point out that we are a small company now, so our staff meetings are 3 people. I think realistically, a workout meeting is perfectly suited to meetings involving 2 to 8 people. Bigger could work to a certain extent, although probably would need to be more of a “one to many” meeting than a “many to many” meeting. Although the same could be said of really any meetings involving more than 8 people.

All in all, I think it was a huge success, and we’re all looking forward to the next one: this time it’s going to be a brainstorming meeting. We’ve got a new service offering for which we need to sort out some of the details. We need to meet about it, but the thought of another meeting was very unappealing to me: I’m working far more hours than I should be at the moment. And I thought: “workout meeting!”, and now I’m looking forward to it. And let’s face it, a brainstorming session is exactly the time to take advantage of that alertness that exercise provides.

Again I ask: why isn’t everyone doing workout staff meetings?
 

[1] Gerontology for the Health Care Professional, Second edition. Robnett, Regula and Walter Chop, 2010

[2] Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Ratey, John M.D, 2008

[3] http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2012/04/24/dementia-seniors-weight-training.html

[4]Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males

[5]Neuroplasticity – exercise-induced response of peripheral brain-derived neurotrophic factor: a systematic review of experimental studies in human subjects.

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