TGI Newsletter Issue #38 Learning CAN be fun. Training SHOULD be fun.
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Exercise Can Boost Your Brain Power
I exercise a lot, perhaps 6 or 7 days a week. At first I thought I was exercising to keep in shape. But what I have come to realize is that all of this exercising was probably doing more for my brain. When I exercise, physically exert myself, I feel and think better. I know this to be true for if I miss even one day of this steady routine my ability to think, engage, and simply feel good about life's struggles is severely compromised. Others say the same thing. John Medina's book Brain Rules provides us with his 12 rules for better brains. "Experiments show that thinking skills are improved by exercise, which stimulates the flow of blood to the brain. Even a modest amount of aerobic exercise will half your risk of general dementia and reduces the risk of Alzheimer's by 60%." (from article by Clive Shepard -

Below is an article entitled, Train Your Brain With Exercise by Jean Lawrence

"I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment," says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User's Guide to the Brain. "Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being."

Stephen C. Putnam, MEd, took up canoeing in a serious way to combat the symptoms of adult ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Then he wrote a book, titled Nature's Ritalin for the Marathon Mind, about the benefits of exercise on troublesome brain disorders such as ADHD, a neurological/behavioral condition resulting in hyperactivity and the inability to focus on tasks.

Putnam cites studies of children who ran around for 15 to 45 minutes before class and cut their ants-in-the-pants behavior by half when they got to class. As with most exercise, the effects were relatively lasting -- smoothing out behavior two to four hours after the exercise.

Putnam also points to some preliminary animal research that suggests that exercise can cause new stem cells to grow, refreshing the brain and other body parts. According to Ratey, exercise also stimulates nerve growth factors. "I call it Miracle-Gro for the brain," he says.

Christin Anderson, MS, wellness and fitness coordinator of the University of San Francisco, explains that exercise affects many sites within the nervous system and sets off pleasure chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that make us feel calm, happy, and euphoric. In other words, if you don't want to wait for those good feelings to come by accident (if they do), you can bring them on by exercising. "When one exercises," Anderson says, "you can think more clearly, perform better, and your morale is better. This is pure science -- stimulate your nervous system and function at a higher level."

Almost everyone has heard of the "fog of war," but the "fog of living" is depression. "Depression affects memory and effectiveness (not to mention the ability to get up, get dressed, and function)," Anderson says. "If you can control your physiology, you can relax, focus, and remember."

In a study reported in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2001, 80 young male and female volunteers were tested for mood and then did aerobics for an hour. Of the 80, 52 were depressed before the exercise. That group was the most likely to benefit, reporting a reduction in anger, fatigue, and tension. They also felt more vigorous after the workout.

A well-known study was done at Duke University involving 150 people 50 or older who had been diagnosed with depression. They were divided into three groups and given either exercise as a treatment for four months, the antidepressant drug Zoloft, or a combination of the two.

At the end of the four months, all three groups felt better. But the researchers didn't leave it there. They checked again in six months, and the exercise group had relapsed at significantly lower rates than the Zoloft or combination groups. In fact, the scientists felt that giving the Zoloft along with the exercise undermined the effects of the exercise, saying the combination group might have preferred to feel they had worked for their improvement rather than having to take a pill.

This doesn't mean, the researcher said, that exercise is a cureall for every case of depression. Seeking out the study showed motivation, and motivation can be hard to come by when you're depressed.

Single bouts of exercise can reduce anxiety for several hours afterward, although there may be a lag time before the good feeling sets in if exercise is too intense (good news for those who find fanatical, prolonged, "check your pulse" exercise unappealing).

Therefore, low to moderate forms of exercise are recommended for brain training. Ratey recommends 8 to 12 minutes a day of sweating and breathing-hard exercise (60% of maximum heart rate) for brain training.

Anderson says a minimum would be 30 minutes of moderate exercise, walking, hiking, or swimming, three times a week. Half an hour to an hour, four to five times a week would be even better. For those who want to be REALLY on the ball, 90 minutes five to six times a week would not be out of line, she says. Anderson recommends two sessions a day for this purpose, rather than one big heaving workout. "Swim for 20 minutes in the morning, then walk at night," she advises. "Right after hard, intense exercise, you may not be as acute. Overtraining can set off enzymes that can lead to fatigue, which is the enemy of alertness."

Anderson also says the type of exercise you select depends on your personality. It may be the opposite of what you'd expect. "If you're a 32-year-old male, work 70 hours a week, play ball twice on the weekend and jog daily," she says, "you may need to do some yoga to improve your mental acuity." Some coaches, she points, out actually have to get people to relax to find their "edge." Meditation can also be a great complement to exercise, she adds. Then: "Do what you enjoy. That's important."

"You want to ready your brain for learning," Ratey says. For that to happen, all the chemicals must "jog" into place.

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

Famous Quotes
Edward Stanley — "Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness."

Thomas Jefferson — "The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best."

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In elementary school, most of us asked questions which were for purely informational purposes. A raise of the hand usually got the attention of the teacher and the question was treated matter-of-factly. In training however, questions from the audience are rarely asked and when they are, they don't get the attention they deserve. However, these questions, along with other indicators, can give a trainer an abundance of information to analyze their audience. It is crucial that trainers take these questions and other indicators seriously to avoid having their presentations become one-sided.

In training, audiences don't just ask questions because they want information. In fact, simply needing information actually represent a small percentage of the motives behind audience questions. For example, an audience member is likely to ask a question because they may want to lead you and the discussion in a different direction. Someone might use a question to tell you something that they know. A trainee also might ask a question simply out of need for attention.

Regardless of the reasons questions are asked, there are some specific ways to handle an audience's questions. When questions are asked of you, the first and most important rule is to never try to fool an audience. If you don't know the answer to a question, admit it, and offer to follow up with an answer later. Treat the question as sincere and answer it as adequately and honestly as possible. Listen carefully to questions and give trainees the attention they deserve.

Trainers are often asked questions when they haven't asked the audience for them. This often catches trainers off guard, but may alert them to an area unintentionally left out of the presentation, or alert them to a new area of audience interest. Such an unsolicited question can throw a trainer off balance, but there are methods for handling it. First of all, prepare completely in advance. Survey possible questions which might arise and come equipped with the answers. When a question is asked, listen carefully and think while it is being asked. Repeat the question to be sure that all have heard it. Pause before answering in order to concentrate. Try to draw the questioner out further if necessary. Although the best answer to a question may be another question, make sure that you never argue with an audience member. Finally, after answering the question, return as soon as possible to your main thought sequence.

Ask "friendly" questions by putting the "you" element into the question. This lets the audience know that you are on their side and genuinely are interested in their response. In order to emphasize this fact, some trainers develop the fine art of leaning forward slightly or cocking their head. As you allow the trainee to answer, limit the answer to the information wanted but give the trainee time to think and phrase the answer. Be objective in evaluation and give the trainee credit for intelligence. From your knowledge of the experience level of the audience, be sure that the trainee can answer the question, but always supply an "out" in case you've chosen the wrong person to avoid the possibility of embarrassment or ridicule.

Aside from fielding and asking questions, there are other ways of analyzing audience attention and feedback. Unfortunately most trainers are unaware of these methods or feel audience analysis is not really all that effective or important. Nothing could be further from the truth. Analysis is the main tool for what is known as the "functional approach" this dictates that you always seek to measure your progress toward an objective as well as the accomplishment itself. Without the ability to analyze feedback, trainers may have unrealistic or false impressions about the progress being made in the presentation, and thus will be uncertain or wrong in determining their success.

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