Exercise and focus

When you’re in a rush, behind schedule, or distracted, you’re more likely to make errors than when you are relaxed and attentive in the present. I’ve made mistakes when my mind has been running out of control — I’ve found my keys in the refrigerator, I’ve driven the wrong way down a one-way street, and typos have made their way onto the Unclutterer homepage.

One of the benefits of living as an unclutterer — choosing to get rid of the distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life — is that you have very few or no distractions to disrupt your focus. You don’t constantly worry about forgetting things because you have lists, calendars, and systems in place to manage your time and responsibilities. You aren’t anxious about completing a project on time because you no longer procrastinate. You don’t accidentally put your keys in the refrigerator because they have a designated place to live near your front door.

A neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, Arthur Kramer, in “Ageing, Fitness and Neurocognitive Function” (link is a PDF) in Nature magazine, reports on another way to improve your ability to focus and brain cognition. The answer: Regularly participating in aerobic exercise. From The Invisible Gorilla, pages 222 and 223, discussing Kramer’s study:

… aerobic exercise more effectively improves the health of your heart and increases blood flow to your brain … You don’t need to compete in triathlons; just walking a reasonable clip for thirty minutes or more a few times a week leads to better executive functioning and a healthier brain … Exercise improves cognition broadly by increasing the fitness of your brain itself.

As you’re working on your uncluttering efforts, consider adding thirty minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week to your schedule. If your typical attitude is that you don’t have time to exercise, the reality might be that exercise will help your ability to focus, which can help you to be more efficient with your time. An hour and a half a week of exercise could be an important step on your path to an uncluttered life.

17 Comments for “Exercise and focus”

  1. posted by Another Deb on

    I have had this exact experience in the past when I did regular exercise. It was amazing to see the difference in my lucidity after exercising.

    I also believe that in addition to the increased blood flow, you are using “down time” in the brain for processing things you need to work through.

    Now to convince my creaky body, stiff joints and tight ligaments that I will really feel better if I start doing it again.

  2. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I always feel much more awake and clear after exercising. I may complain about doing it, but I always feel better afterwards.

  3. posted by Ruth Hansell on


    Had to laugh at the ‘left my keys in the refrigerator’ remark. I used to forget my lunch when I’d work in a home or office, and pop it in their fridge to stay fresh. I’d be halfway to my next appointment and realized I had nothing to eat!

    Now I leave my keys with anything that I’m not using, but needs to be inside and not sitting in my car, baking in the heat. A lot of times it’s my lunch in their fridge, and when it’s time for me to go, I’ll look for my keys and remember the refrigerator trick. I haven’t left lunch behind in years.

  4. posted by Joan on

    I was reading this and realized I’ve got almost an “over-uncluttered” problem. I have SUCH habits with things like bills, keys, etc., that when for some reason I don’t put something in its proper place, I totally can’t find it.

    Oddly, when I was unorganized, I almost always remembered, oh, I had that “here” or “there” or whatever. Now, it’s like I’ve so trained my brain to go to one particular place, that when something isn’t there, I’m at a loss. Over-focused??

    Regarding exercising, though, I only wish I had such a routine for that! I’m trying, though.

  5. posted by Jude on

    I walk 3 to 5 miles every day. If I have to take a day or two off, I swiftly fall into slothdom.

  6. posted by Winnie on

    Keys in the refrigerator is a “Dad” joke with my kids. My husband leaves for work between 4:30 and 5 am and once or twice had to wake me because he couldn’t find his keys. As near as I can figure, he would get ready to leave, have his keys in his hand and go to the fridge for a drink of juice. Since his keys had a “permanent” home once he’d shut them in the fridge he could not make the connection that they would be in there – specially at 4:30 in the morning. Every time he says “where is my . . . ” the kids ask if he’s looked in the fridge.

  7. posted by Ramblings of a Woman on

    I really need to start an exercise program again, but first I need to clear off the treadmill! No, it is not a clothes hanger anymore, it got moved out of the bedroom. Now it is a stuff holder by the front door.
    I always have good intentions of going to the Y, but never seem to make it!

  8. posted by chacha1 on

    Hey Bernice, put that treadmill in front of your TV. 🙂

  9. posted by Amy on

    I must be a psychic unclutterer because last week I bought my first treadmill ever. I don’t do much of anything these days since becoming unemployed. I look for work, yes indeedy, but alas, there seems to be a glut of administrative assistants these days…Anyway, I am getting older and need to start taking better care of myself. Better a treadmill than a walker, right? The weather is either too hot or too wet or too cold to make a good effort at getting to the local high school track, hence the treadmill. I cleaned out a whole half a closet full of tops with no skirt that matched and skirts with no tops that matched, to have a place to store the thing, too. That was something that definitely needed doing, and now I am way far ahead on deleting one item a day. I am so very out of shape, (unless you consider round as a shape) that it will take me a few more weeks to get past 5 minutes a session, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with only one step, right?

  10. posted by Gil on

    @ Bernice..You would be surprised to find out that you can so so much more without a treadmill and other bulky equipment. At one time, I used to think I needed equipment or a fully equipped gym to be fit. Was I wrong.

    Then again, if you prefer to use the treadmill, that’s better than no excercise at all.

    Now, I mainly use my bodyweight, along with an ab wheel and set of pushup handles. I love the portability of BW excercize, because I can do this anywhere and my session are done in 30 min or less.

  11. posted by Olivia on

    Hi, just wanted to pop in and say thank you for all of your advice on your blog… My husband and I are just starting to pay off a huge credit card debt, and also trying to stay organized in all aspects of our life, and your blog has been a big source of motivation for me (and so, us). Thank you!!



  12. posted by JC on

    I like to exercise, it’s making the time that is a killer. So, I signed up for karate. My children were already taking it and I had to be in town anyway. They are 4 belt levels above me and need credit for assisting lower belt classes so they have to be there anyway and I may as well do something with the time. It doesn’t take any special equipment; I can practice it anywhere wearing any loose clothing; and it’s a serious physical/mental workout if you are really putting effort.

  13. posted by Leslie on

    I’m definitely trying to make exercising a priority this semester. I didn’t get a lot of exercise for several months because of problems with my feet, so I feel kind of sluggish. I also keep reading that more energy starts with getting enough sleep and exercise, and since I lack energy to unclutter, study, create – all those wonderful things I want to do – I thought I’d start there. I’m soooo happy to be back in the dance studio! The additional benefit of focus wasn’t one I’d thought of, but it sure makes sense – added motivation to drag myself out of bed to the gym in the morning!

  14. posted by WilliamB on

    About a month ago I got sick – again – and finally had enough. If I went to a dr to see why I was getting sick so much, the first things he’d ask me are “Are you getting enough sleep? Eating well? Exercising? How’s the stress level?” Well dammit I can address these things without a doctor’s input or bill. So I started running again. Nothing spectacular but I kept with it.

    Last week I got derailed and, as usual, am finding it very hard to get back on track. I wish I knew why I find it so hard when exercising makes me feel better, makes me feel good for having achieved a goal, and makes me healthier. I can exercise on company time (unwritten understanding re how much time per week) and there’s a gym at work. So why do I keep stopping and having to restart?!? Well, only thing to do is get back up on the horse again.

    @Amy – you rock! And can I use your like about walkers and treadmills?

  15. posted by Amy on

    @WilliamB – Thx & Of Course!

  16. posted by priest's wife on

    I have very little time- my husband likes to watch an hour of tv to decompress so I use resistance bands while watching tv with him- not perfect- but at this point I will take better than nothing

  17. posted by Mama9cats on

    I’ve been reading for awhile now; this is my first post. I’ve had Fibromyalgia for years, and it always hurts to move – but I HAVE to keep moving, or it gets worse. I try to walk the hallways in my building at work (on my lunch break); 4 times around is 1 mile. Some days I barely make it around once. I have lost a lot of upper-body strength due to rotator cuff injuries, but I’ve been trying to do modified pushups off the kitchen sink. Stretching a lot seems to help too. But for all the times I’ve heard people say that they feel so good, so energized after exercise, all I feel is exhausted. There are some good ideas here; I’d like to try doing resistance bands. Cheers to all who are making the effort; keep up the good work!

Comments are closed.