With the increase of work pressure and fast moving world, workplace doping?—?or the illegal use of drugs such as Adderall and other stimulants to enhance cognitive performance?—?is growing rapidly.
But there is a far more healthy and ethical way to get the same, if not greater, mental boost. Exercise.
The effectiveness of exercise, however, is unmatched because it seems to promote an ideal balance of neurotransmitters.
Researchers have found that after a single 35-minute aerobic (fast walking or running) treadmill session, creativity and cognitive flexibility?—?the ability to think about multiple concepts at once?—?improve significantly.
Although exercise is commonly thought of as something that is good for physical fitness and health down the road (e.g., prevention of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis) it also brings immediate benefits for mental fitness.
Three neurotransmitters?—?serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine?—?are integral to brain function. Serotonin influences mood. Norepinephrine heightens perception. Dopamine regulates attention and satisfaction. When these neurotransmitters are in balance, the brain is ready for optimal functioning. When they are out of balance, however, cognitive ability suffers, and in severe cases, psychiatric disorders may arise.
Many drugs used to treat mental health disorders, including those implicated in workplace doping, individually target serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine.
Yet, as John Ratey, psychiatrist and author of Spark, says: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, explains, 'simply raising or lowering the level of a neurotransmitter does not elicit a crisp one-to-one result because the system is so complex.'
Beyond professional work, exercise is also associated with better academic performance. It’s ironic that phys-ed gets cut for more time in math and science when phys-ed not only improves one’s ability to do math and science, but also helps develop healthy people.
In addition to priming the brain for acute bouts of cognitive work?—?be them professional or academic?—?exercise simultaneously promotes long-term brain development by triggering the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
BDNF fuels a process called neurogenesis, which spawns new brain cells and facilitates connections between them.
Pushing yourself physically teaches you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
In other words, stressing your body inside the gym helps make your entire being more resistant to stress outside of the gym.
So, if you want to enhance your mental fitness, and do so in a perfectly legal and safe way, you should prioritise exercise in your life.