4 easy exercises to sharpen your brain
Are you mentally fit? As the body ages, cognitive functions like memory, problem-solving and hand-eye coordination can decline. Here are the top techniques to help buff up your brain.
Are you mentally fit? Just as maturing muscles need exercise to avoid atrophying, so does the brain. As the body ages, cognitive functions such as memory, problem-solving, and hand-eye coordination can decline. Luckily, you can improve these effects with simple exercises that are easy to incorporate into your everyday life.
Your mind craves constant stimulation. Here are the top techniques to help buff up your brain:
Put it in reverse. For most people, walking requires little to no concentration. It is an automatic movement pattern our brains and bodies learned from a young age. It gets us where we need to go without much thought. But what happens when we shift our gears and gaits into reverse? This simple stride switch forces the brain to work harder as it processes the proper form for moving backward.
To practice this exercise, find a safe, obstacle-free area and walk in reverse whenever possible. If you have access to a treadmill, start by safely standing on the fixed side panels that border the machine's belt. Set the speed to a crawl and increase the incline to a steep six. Hold onto the side rails for stability and keep your feet on the panels as you carefully turn around so you're facing away from the machine. When ready, slowly step onto the belt and walk backward for two minutes, concentrating your gaze forward to avoid poor posture. If you feel uncomfortable at any time, simply step back onto the panels. Practice this three times each week.
Have a ball. A simple game of catch can strengthen more than just your throw. Over the years, hand-eye coordination, balance and reaction time diminish, which can make independent-living necessities such as operating a motor vehicle or avoiding fall-related injuries difficult. By practicing such exercises as throwing a ball, you can help regenerate these signals and improve your motor skills.
Try the following hand-eye exercises:
With a tennis ball in hand, stand facing a wall and take three large steps back. Lightly throw the ball with your right hand and catch it with your left hand for 25 repetitions. Once complete, repeat, starting with your left hand.
Stand facing a wall and take two steps back. Carefully elevate your right foot, keep your core muscles tight and toss the ball against the wall for 10 repetitions. Repeat with your left leg lifted.
Switch hands. We all have a dominant side. So whether you are right-handed or left-handed, your brain will subconsciously use your stronger side to perform tasks such as writing, lifting objects or kicking a ball. Though this habit seems harmless, it could cause muscular imbalances over time. To sharpen your senses and stimulate brain activity, use your weaker side more often.
Next time you brush your teeth, pick up your gym bag, open a door, or pour a cup of coffee, use your less-dominant hand. This will feel uncomfortable and challenging initially because your nerves and brain are working together to learn new patterns. You'll be amazed how quickly your brain establishes the muscle memory necessary to deftly move through these common tasks in a short span of time.
Care to dance? Whether you like to twist, two-step, or tango, dancing may be the perfect antidote to fight a decline in cognitive function. When your mind and muscles synchronize steps to the tune of your favorite song, complex mental coordination is required. Each time your brain practices a new habit, such as learning a dance routine, your brain creates new neurons to forge fresh pathways.
Dancing is a convenient, inexpensive form of exercise that can be practiced virtually anywhere. Or, if you want to dive into a more organized dance scene, try a Zumba class. Not only will it improve your physical and mental health, you may even meet some new friends, which is proven to help with exercise adherence. Strut, step or swing for at least 20 minutes, three times each week.
Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach with a focus on movement, mindfulness, nutrition and relationships. To learn more, visit ashleyblakefitness.com.