By / 28th September, 2016 / Blog / Off

It is well known and documented that physical activity leads to the fountain of youth. Increased strength, cardiovascular fitness and mobility are all important aspects of fighting age. But what about the aging brain?

Training the brain through physical movement is a highly effective way to strengthen brain function. Because the brain controls the body, and not the other way around, brain training is an opportunity to improve quality of life. The more functions of the brain we use at one time the greater the amount of neuroplasticity that occurs.

Neuroplasticity describes the brain’s ability to change and adapt. It is what occurs when experiences reorganize neural pathways in the brain by learning new things or memorizing new information.

While sitting down and working on mental games like Sudoku can exercise the brain’s mathematical functions, research finds an optimal relationship occurs when movement is performed with verbal dependent exercises. A choreographed fitness or dance class is a perfect example of getting the most of fitness and brain training. The ability to follow verbal instruction while moving, as well as memorizing movement patterns is one of the best ways to build the brain.

Engaging in even a moderately challenging brain skill such as recalling your first memory or doing complex math problems while walking and talking makes it clear how much easier the skill becomes when you stop and think. Stopping the body’s movement decreases sensory input to the brain, allowing it to concentrate on its other processes. While stopping to think helps in solving a problem, is it less effective in the pursuit of stimulating neuroplasticity.

Brain weight and volume decrease approximately five per cent every 10 years after the age of 40. But most of that loss affects just the supporting tissue and nerve fibre insulation. The number of brain cells remains mostly intact throughout life, with the notable exception of cells within the hippocampus, the centre of memory, learning and emotional expression.

Loss of brain cells in general is due primarily to decreased oxygen and glucose metabolism resulting from the slowing of blood flow associated with sedentary lifestyles. Much of the damage can be reversed through daily cerebral and physical activity. The teaming of body and mind activities stimulates new cell growth.

Even the types of movements you do can have a greater affect on the brain. Multi-planar tasks, meaning moving the body in more than one direction, stimulates more brain function. Movements that cross the midline of the body while verbalizing or comprehending information further train neuroplasticity because of the way the brain has to fire to achieve what is being asked. Performing a crossover step such as a grapevine or karaoke movements are good examples of multi-planar patterns that are highly effective brain exercises.

Neuroplasticity training often involves fusing the mental and physical. Progression is the key to success as with any proper exercise program. Begin with simple skills such as listening to instructions and moving with the directions. Movements that require spontaneous action are the most advanced forms of training. For example, agility training drills where you need to quickly respond to commands to move right, left or forward and back.

Adding brain games while moving will enhance the challenge. Try reciting your phone number forward and backwards while exercising. Or perform an exercise that requires an alternating right and left side moment such as alternate lunging. On the right leg pick a word that you can then translate to another language on the left leg. For example, right leg lunge is apple and the left leg is manzana in Spanish.

When choosing exercises for functional, biological, or psychological aging, consider the two sides of the brain. The left side of the brain mostly controls speech, language, math, analytical skills, memory of names and words, and motor skills of the right side of the body. The right side of the brain controls mostly creative skills, problem solving, emotions, memories, spatial zones and patterns of details and motor skills of the left side of the body.

There is a tendency when we age to decrease the complexity of our activity, which is contradictory to what we really need. To keep the brain young and to slow the aging process we need to stimulate the brain regularly. Physical regeneration occurs optimally when we keep our bodies well nourished and maintain excellent physical fitness. Rather then shying away from complex movements and skill development, keep your brain in shape by continuously taking on challenges, such as learning a new dance step.