Entrepreneurs face considerable mental and emotional challenges, constantly gaining skills and making what feels like a never-ending string of make-or-break decisions.
That's why many small-business owners take advantage of the fact exercise helps them perform better under stress. That exercising at moderate intensity for 20 minutes elevates their mood for up to 12 hours. That exercise increases the production of a protein that supports the function, growth, and survival of brain cells.
Many of the effects of exercise are longer term, though. What if you want to use exercise tactically rather than strategically: maybe to prime your mental pump so you can better learn a new skill or technique, or to remember something important?
Science to the rescue.
Say you want to learn or improve a task where motor skills are involved. According to a 2018 study published in Scientific Reports, 15 minutes of cycling at 80 percent of max heart rate ("intense" exercise) resulted in better memory performance than 30 minutes of moderate exercise, which was better than no exercise at all.
In other words, exercising hard for 15 minutes "fired up" participants brains and allowed them to learn motor skills better and faster.
The effect is even more pronounced as you age. A 2020 study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism (the polar opposite of a beach read) found that a 15-minute high intensity interval training (HIIT) session "results in the greatest memory performance in ... older adults compared to moderate continuous training or stretching."
But what if you want to improve your ability to remember certain things? That's where "moderate" exercise comes into play.
A 2019 study published in the same journal showed that a moderate intensity workout -- keeping your heart rate between 50 and 80 percent of max -- is the best way to improve recall and associative learning, and increase your brain's ability to absorb and retain information.
Like practicing a sales demo, rehearsing a presentation, or memorizing a variety of facts and figures.
According to Dr. Blanca Marin Bosch of the University of Geneva, " ... not all forms of memory use the same mechanisms and pathways in the brain, and exercise of different intensities can be useful for different functions related to memory."
Prime Yourself to Learn a Skill
So if you're an entrepreneur who works with your hands, and you want to improve a motor skill, knock out a 15-minute HIIT session ahead of time.
Here are plenty of different HIIT options, some aerobic, others strength-focused.
And here's a seemingly simple yet irritatingly difficult example:
Whatever HIIT workout you do, remember you have to go well beyond what feels comfortable. (Which means you should check with your physician to make sure you're up for it.)
Your lungs need to burn. Your muscles need to burn. If it's not hard -- really hard -- then you're not doing a HIIT workout.
Roughly speaking, your "on" effort should be at 80 to 90 percent of max heart rate, and your recovery period at 65 to 70 percent. (In general terms, you can calculate your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.)
Or if you're doing longer "on" sessions, you may rest completely for shorter periods of time; it all depends on the workout.
What won't vary is that a HIIT workout is no fun.
But it will improve your health and fitness -- and improve your ability to learn a new skill.
Prime Yourself to Remember Better
If you want to improve your ability to learn and retain information, prep yourself with moderate exercise.
For most people, "moderate" means your heart rate should be within 100 to 120 beats per minute (depending on age, fitness level, medical conditions, etc.).
For some that might mean a brisk walk; for others, a decent jog. Checking your heart rate is easy even if you don't have a wearable; just exercise for five minutes or so and take your pulse.
Or use the "conversation" test: If you and a friend are jogging and you're struggling to make small talk because you're gasping for air, your effort likely exceeds "moderate."
Granted, you can exercise just because you want to exercise.
But with a little planning, you could double-dip and reap the benefits of exercise to learn new skills or information.