The Best Workout to Combat Afternoon Brain Fog, According to a Neuroscientist

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Photo: Getty Images/ YakobchukOlena
Spending nine weeks at home is enough to make even the sharpest brain start to feel foggy. We've been living, working, and exercising in the same confined space, living the same exact routine day in and day out, and the usual Sudoku and crossword puzzles are no longer working to help you stay sharp. What can help, though, is dancing it out.

Workouts in general are known to have an important impact on your brain, and dance tops the list for helping with cognitive function. Before we get into the "why," though, it's first important to understand why that foggy feeling might be hitting so hard right now. "We're all experiencing ongoing, chronic stress as a result of threats to our physical well-being, profound disruption and changes in our daily habits as a result of sheltering at home, in addition to worries about job security and financial losses going forward, which is impacting our physical and mental health," says neuroscientist Nan Wise, PhD.

She explains that his constant stress can cause your adrenal glands to fire off more cortisol and stress hormones than usual, which depletes them and leads to a condition called adrenal fatigue. "This can result in brain fog, depleted energy, increased depressive and anxious moods... and other kinds of physical and emotional symptoms as the ongoing stress continues," says Dr. Wise.

The best way to deal, science says, is to throw yourself an impromptu dance party. According to research, movements that require unpredictability and reaction—both of which are at the core of any good choreography—challenges your brain and stimulates the growth of new neurological pathways. A 2019 study named dance-based workouts as one of the top non-pharmacological treatments for Alzheimers, and found that repetitive steps coincided with an increase in the thickness of the brain's grey matter, which is linked to intelligence. Another study, from 2018, found that three months of dance cardio improved cognitive function, episodic memory, and processing speed.

"Dance-based workouts are incredibly beneficial for both mind and body because they stimulate our wired-in emotional instinct to play, which is a sorely squashed in most adults," says Dr. Wise. "By playing with dance, which involves moving our bodies rhythmically to music, we engage the body, mind, [and] brain in a form of exercise that combats the negative effects of stress, burns up the stress hormones, and elicits the feel good neurotransmitters that promote wellbeing."

In other words? Pop on your favorite playlist and start shaking it. And for a little inspiration to get up and dance like no one's watching, follow along with the video below.

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