Multitasking is over-rated. That’s what they say. I’m about to prove that wrong for two reasons. First, trading in a few of your current exercise habits so you can identify how to “train your brain” while you workout is a good idea. Second, read on for a how-to on what’s called dual tasking during exercise to get better results from things you might be doing now.
Exercise for active aging involves strength training, cardiovascular exercise, flexibility and balance. Those four pillars are likely in your exercise program if you’re already active, or they’re on your radar even if you’re still ‘getting ready’ to exercise. What if you could make them even more valuable to you? Here’s how.
Memory is one concern for any of us as we age. A recent study showed older adults who began and progressed to walking 40 minutes three times a week and continued for a year had significant growth in the hippocampus. That is “memory central” for your brain. A group who only stretched lost 1.5% of their hippocampus, which researchers called “norma.” Those that walked? Gained 2%, making the overall gap 3.5%. That’s difference between losing the keys and forgetting where you put your glasses.
Trade in your balance exercises in a quiet environment where you can focus for distraction and you’ll reduce your risk of falls even more. Another study found that those who practiced balance by standing on one leg for instance and read aloud from a poem developed better balance and reaction skills than those who only practice balance alone.
Exchange monotonous treadmill walking for some fancy footwork you will learn in a group fitness class or square dancing. Get crazy and try boxing with gloves and bags. The benefit is not only reduced stress to lower body but learning new patterns and quickly responding to instructions called out by an instructor creates new connections in your brain. That kind of rewiring is good for your physical and mental health.
Convinced that multitasking is not so bad after all, but the ideas above seem daunting? Even if you’re just getting started with exercise, or have two left feet, there are other ways that you can train your brain. Just learning how to format your exercise session is a brain stimulating experience. Learning when to exhale and what speed to go, what order of exercises is best, is the equivalent of your brain doing gymnastics.
You’ll have years of rewiring ahead as you can continue to attend a new class, modify an old exercise, and challenge yourself in new ways, not all physical.