Exercise isn’t just about looking good, it’s about feeling and performing at your very best. You’ve probably already heard regular aerobic exercise like walking is excellent for brain health, but did you know combining walking with specific movements to stimulate the brain can make it even more effective?
Help slow down (or maybe even reverse) the mental and physical decline aging can bring by training your brain — and your body — with these three brain-boosting moves that you can easily incorporate into your next walking session.
These exercises (featured in our Brain Fitness Fun routine from our “Walk STRONG: 6 Week Total Transformation System”) were designed in concert with Marie Pasinski, MD, a neurologist, faculty member at Harvard Medical School and author of “Beautiful Brain, Beautiful You.”
HOW TO DO THE MOVES
During your walk, find a safe spot away from traffic (a park or empty parking lot works great) and add 1–3 sets of each of these brain boosters to the end, middle or beginning of your walking route anytime you want to strengthen your body and your mind at the same time.
BRAIN BOOSTER #1: BOX STEP-OVERS
Starting with your feet together, take a step to the right, then step your left foot into your right, lifting your feet as if stepping over an object on the floor. Repeat, stepping backward right and then left. Reverse to the left, starting with your left foot, and then repeat again moving forward, starting with your left foot, to complete the box. Repeat 8 times total, then reverse starting to the left for 8 more reps.
Pasinski explains why this is so great for your brain: “Learning and initiating new patterns of movement engages the prefrontal and frontal cortex, located at the front of the brain, just behind your forehead. Your right frontal cortex controls voluntary movement on the right side of your body while the left frontal cortex controls the left side. Alternating right- and left-sided movements limbers up your brain as well as your body.”
BRAIN BOOSTER #2: SIMULTANEOUS ARM AND LEG CIRCLES
Balancing on your left leg, extend your right leg out in front of your body (close to the ground) and right arm in front of your shoulder. Make 8 small circles with your arm and leg at the same time. Reverse the direction of the circles for 8. Repeat on left side. That’s one set. Aim for 3 sets total.
Pasinski explains why this is so great for your brain: “Balancing gives our cerebellum and sensory systems a workout. Sensory information from the nerves in our legs travels up through the spinal cord and into the cerebellum. The cerebellum integrates these inputs to fine-tune motor activity allowing us to maintain our balance. Like any other skill, practice makes perfect. The more you stimulate these pathways the stronger they become over time.”
BRAIN BOOSTER #3: TIGHTROPE WALK AND KNEE
With arms swinging naturally by your sides, walk forward along an imaginary ‘tightrope’ on one single line on the floor, stepping forward right, left, right and then quickly lift your left knee in front of your hip, tapping the top of your left thigh with both hands. Immediately repeat pattern moving backward, beginning with the left leg, stepping back left, right, left and lifting your right knee up in front of your hip and tapping top of your right thigh with both hands. That’s one rep. Repeat for a total of 4 reps, then reverse, starting with left foot leading forward first for 4 more reps.
Pasinski explains why this is so great for your brain: “These exercises will give your ‘cerebellum’ a workout. The cerebellum which means ‘little brain’ in Latin, is an area in the back of the brain that coordinates movement, making it smooth, rhythmic and precise. This part of the brain also is essential for balance and posture. Maintaining a healthy cerebellum will improve your coordination and agility. In addition, it will give you a more youthful stride and is key to prevent injuries.”
Got an important test, meeting or event coming up that you can use some extra brain power for? If you are a coffee drinker, try sipping a cup of coffee before your walk to help give your cognitive skills an additional boost and increase your speed and endurance even more.
Remember, regular exercise is an excellent way to take great care of your body and your brain to live an active, healthy and full life!