1. Exercise boosts brain power. We are not used to sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. From an evolutionary perspective, our brains developed while working out, walking as many as 12 miles a day. The brain still craves the experience, especially in sedentary populations like our own. That's why exercise boosts brain power in such populations. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving tasks and more. I am convinced that integrating exercise into our eight hours at work or school would only be normal. 

2. Sleep well, think well. Ever feel tired around 3 o'clock in the afternoon? That's because your brain really wants to take a nap. You might be more productive if you did: In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots' performance by 34 percent. Even so, the brain isn't resting while it sleeps. It is surprisingly active. And whether you get enough rest affects your mental agility the next day. 

3. We don't pay attention to boring things. Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. We can talk and breathe, but when it comes to higher level tasks, we just can't do it. A good example is driving while talking on a cell phone. Cell phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies, slower to return to normal speed after an emergency and more wild in their "following distance" behind the vehicle in front of them. It's worse than driving drunk. Despite research that shows your error rate goes up 50 percent and it takes you twice as long to do things when you attempt to multitask, our workplaces and schools actually encourage it. 

What do these studies show, viewed as a whole? If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over. Starting over is what Brain Rules is all about.

John Medina, author of the New York Times best-seller Brain Rules, is a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant. He is an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is also the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.


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