Recently I finished reading the book “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” by Sharon Begley. In it the author references what seems like hundreds of studies. Amid a myriad of great information a couple things stood out to me in relation to the value of training and the brain, as it relates to adults. First, several studies done on mice have shown as neuroscientist Rusty Gage put it, “voluntary exercise increases the number of neural stem cells that divide and give rise to new neurons in the hippocampus”. “Running voluntarily increases neurogenesis and increases learning in even very, very old animals”. And finally the experiments, “lay the foundation for establishing exercise-induced changes in brain structure as a viable [way] to combat the deleterious effects of aging”.
Later in the book, neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, based on his successful studies in treating older adults and improving their cognitive function, was quoted as saying that he foresees “a new brain-fitness culture,” reflecting “an understanding that you need to exercise your brain as you exercise your body.” The author goes on to describe that it is important to be getting joy out of such activities, which I think relates highly to the voluntary part described previously. Like we always say at Ambition, if it’s not fun don’t do it. In addition Begley goes on to say that older adults are often told to stimulate their minds with crossword puzzles or reading, etc. but over time these become less demanding as they are things that the person is already good at. It makes more sense to take up new challenges which could be anywhere from new physical skills to traveling to new places. These will exercise the brain’s crucial attentional networks with better opportunity to as Merzenich puts it “almost every physical aspect of the brain can recover from age-related losses.”
Now, this all relates to the older and/or elderly adult, so what about kids? Well, the book addresses some of that but less from an activity level. More recently I read these two articles (Children Being Held Back at School……. and Tips For Helping Kids Learn In The Classroom) that talk about young kids and their developing brains. I encourage you to check out the articles but what is the super duper short take home point you ask? Kids that sit too much or don’t move enough as infants, as opposed to those encouraged to roll, crawl, tumble, crash and fall on their face, aren’t developing their brains in the same way. They are missing some crucial primitive baby reflexes and physical skills as they get older as well developing other issues such an inability to pay attention and other really scientific sounding things that have to do with an underdeveloped brain. For the most part I was first introduced to this concept by the authors of the second article, Brain Highways, located here in Encinitas.
So where does this leave me as a coach, one who at various times has worked with kids as young as 12 and adults 87 years young? Well, as in strength, there are many ways to reach a goal. I know that many of the younger people I work with could use more movement as well as play really since most would agree that as time goes on technology is sending kids physically backward. So, I can do my best to help these kids gain some of the lacking physical skills for the first time through lots of body movement as in basic strength training but also rolling, crawling, skipping, jumping and climbing. With the older population I see, many had or possessed all of these same movement skills at one time, albeit many years ago in some instances. I believe it possible to get some of them back, at least on some level through the appropriate progressions of rolling, crawling, standing, skipping, etc. as well as various visual skill games/challenges. Some of it may be remarkably similar to the Titleist Performance model for working with young kids if you are familiar with that. There are many movements skills, hand/eye, striking, and ambidexterity drills. That may not be entirely the total package in helping restore cognitive function in older adults as the book talks about but it might close. I know that it can be fun enough for some that they will do it voluntarily and it can be damn challenging to both the body and the mind. When all is said and done, regardless of age, continue moving, don’t stop challenging and keep playing!
– Mike Baltren