Tips on how to exercise your brain

I was at a fitness conference in California last week featuring 700 fitness business owners from around the world, in addition to amazing speakers each of the three days talking about a massive range of topics. One of them that really caught my attention was around keeping your brain engaged through training.

The speaker, Stephen Jepson was a hilarious, quirky, witty man who, at the age of 74 is astoundingly fit. Not bodybuilder fit, but functionally fit. I found myself enthusiastically agreeing with so many of the things he said that were critically important to how I train my clients and what we do at our gym. To have a 74-year-old man in amazing mental and physical health confirming the philosophies we hold to be true was amazing evidence to just that.

Too many people live a life of sitting, sitting, sitting. If we do a sport it is one that we are already good at and while that may be great for mastering something, it doesn’t do anything for brain activity.

When we coach athletes, hockey players, football players, soccer, baseball, etc. – we work a lot on hand/eye coordination, balance, agility, speed and strength. We also do this with adults, though not as much. Jepson really tuned me in to the fact that we need to do this more and more for all adults, regardless of age.

He is a shining example of a fit gentleman who is smart as a whip at age 74, and a lesson to all of us. I highly recommend you google his name and watch some of the video’s on YouTube.

So what can you do now?

The next time you are in the gym try doing some more work with strength training using a Bosu Ball (a half ball that you can stand, sit or lay on). This alone will challenge your balance and proprioception (awareness of where your body is positioned in the space around you), greatly improving your ability to function and really creating a massive surge in brain function – especially when you stand on one leg, but not your favourite one, your non dominant one.

Learn to juggle. It does not matter if you can do it or not, the very act of learning that skill will fire up your motor neurons and engage your brain, providing immediate benefit. Jepson took up juggling clubs at the age of 72, snowboarding in his 60s, learned to ride a unicycle and so much more.

As a species, as adults, we need to play more. We really do. We are too dependant on machines, computers, cell phones, tablets, televisions etc. We need to spend some time in a playground every week, maybe even every day.

Learn something new this year. That is my challenge to you (and to me). Ride a skateboard, unicycle, juggle, play a new sport, anything. It doesn’t have to be complex – go to a toy store and get a package of Jacks. Remember those little things? A rubber ball and those little metal star shaped things? You bounce the ball and pick up one Jack. Then set it down and do it again but pick up two Jacks etc. Then do it with your other hand – that is what really makes your brain fire up!

Brush your teeth tonight with your other hand – it’s that simple. Keep your brain active, for that is one of the most powerful organs that you need to support.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.

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