When you hear the words brain training, what do you think of?
Crossword puzzles and brain-teaser apps? Rubik’s cubes? Trivial Pursuit?
While these sorts of brain games have been shown to improve mental performance, the effects are only short term.
In this article, learn how we can leverage the effect exercise has on the brain to create longer-term improvements in brain health and performance.
When we exercise, oxygen rich blood rushes to our brain. (Geeky fact: the brain uses about as much blood as a large quadriceps muscle!) We also get an increase in the amount of a neurotransmitter, Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) that is responsible for neurogenesis – the growth of more brain cells.
This essentially primes our brain for learning, problem solving, and quick thinking – and creates the potential for a brain boost with staying power.
ANY TIME WE ASK OUR CLIENT TO PERFORM AN EXERCISE, WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO ALSO STIMULATE MENTAL ACTIVITY.
Let’s say you have a client who wants to improve his ability to pay attention.Here are three examples of ways you could add a cognitive challenge to exercises you’re already using.
1. COMBINE VISUAL FOCUS WITH VARIABLE MOVEMENT
Have your client fix his eyes on something across the room as he moves through a multi-directional movement pattern.
This will challenge his ability to maintain focus and attention.
2. PRACTICE REACTING WHILE FOCUSING
Have your client react to visual coaching cues or navigate obstacles while staying focused on a task-driven exercise.
This will challenge his ability to shift his attention without forgetting the task at hand.
3. PRACTICE BLOCKING DISTRACTIONS
Have your client attempt a (sub-maximal) physical task or exercise while trying to distract him.
This technique is also called creating cognitive pollution – anyone who feels distracted by the noise in an open-concept office, or the “ding” of a message alert will know what we mean!
These types of challenges ask our brains to solve problems and rapidly learn from mistakes while moving – something humans have been doing since we developed these big brains of ours.
Adding cognitive challenges to our workouts is a fantastic way for health and fitness leaders to help our clients perform better in the gym and in the rest of their busy, demanding lives.