WHY your training program should focus on the brain

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

We take it for granted that we can walk and talk at the same time. It’s an engineering and information processing accomplishment how the brain controls and coordinates movement of our bodies, from walking to running to jumping to throwing an object. The brain’s job is to orient and navigate our bodies safely and successfully through our environment. As we all know, fear of falling is something that tops our list of concerns especially as we get older.

Much more of the brain is devoted to movement than language – Oliver Sacks, M.D.

I guess you could say it’s an occupational hazard that I like watching people move. It gives me a window into their brain function and helps me direct their training. I came across an interesting NY Times article describing research that looked at gait changes and brain function. Decline in gait goes beyond what’s considered the normal aging process! Simply stated, the way you move has a lot to do with the way you think, and therefore, a lot to do with your brain function. 

Here’s a must see video from the article. The initial walking test shows the woman moving right along at a decent pace. The second time she walked while performing a cognitive task, counting backwards from fifty. This is called dual tasking.  As you can see, this woman’s brain is having difficulty coordinating both tasks. Her gait became dysfunctional. She wobbled, almost tipped over, stopped at one point to steady herself, exhibited increased tension in her body and a complete loss of coordinated arm swing.  She apparently didn’t even notice the change in her gait because she was mad she didn’t remember more numbers

brain-regions-areasWith dual tasking, the brain is required to perform both unconscious and conscious processing.  Gait, like most movement through space, is relegated to our unconscious where the brain processes and obtains meaning about our environment – sensory information regarding touch and pressure, vision, hearing, body awareness in space and time. The coordination – timing and rhythm – of our movements is important for our maintaining our balance and posture. The task of counting backwards, which requires thinking, is relegated to the executive portion of the brain where concentration, planning and problem solving take place. We take all this for granted when we just go about our lives and play our sports!

Plasticity exists from the cradle to the grave – Norman Doidge, M.D.

Listen closely! The way you move has a lot to do with your brain function. Past injuries, head traumas, motor vehicle accidents and habitual movement patterns limit and muddle information the brain needs to steer our bodies through our environment. Because the brain controls and coordinates our movements, your training program should not be haphazard or mindless but directed toward improving those parts of the brain that may be under functioning. We know that physical activity improves our brain. It’s not about “use it or lose it”, but rather “use it and improve it.”

Fun reads:

  • The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks, M.D.
  • The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.

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