Brain/body exercises help build balance and dexterity as we age.
I'm convinced that Shayne Adair just added 10 vibrant years to my life. No joke. Her "Active Older Adults" class last month taught a gaggle of exercise instructors how we can help you maintain dexterity, balance and brain function, whether you're 40 or 99. Her fun, wacky body/brain teasers help to boost brain fitness and keep us coordinated as we age.
Adair tapped her left toes and right heel. "You can be the life of the party with these," said Adair, a 40-year-old age-buster who teaches in her Shoreview studio and occasionally at Golds Gym in Vadnais Heights and Blaine.
Talk about a brain teaser. Each instructor's face contorted in concentration and then erupted in giggles. She then had us stand on one foot and write the alphabet with the other. "Anytime one side of your body is doing one thing and the other side is doing something else, it helps the right brain and left brain talk to each other," Adair explained. "It's building those bridges, and that keeps you young. We're building neuroplasticity."
HealthPartners geriatric specialist Dr. James Haefemeyer said, "This is not pure quackery. These are reasonable exercises. There is a huge amount of research in journals like the Journal of the American Geriatric Society on seniors and exercise, and most of it is very positive, [saying] that a lot of simple exercises like that do maintain dexterity, help with balance and prevent falls. So it makes a certain amount of sense."
In "The Brain That Changes Itself," author and psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge insists that "activity [can] produce changes in the structure of the brain. Neuroplasticity-based techniques have great potential to help almost everyone." He's seen patients old and young benefit from simple brain exercises that enhance motor skills.
In class, Adair gave us other brain twisters for the bod. We patted our heads with one hand, rubbed tummies with the other. We thrust arms in the air, circled one arm forward and one arm back like a windmill. I did pretty well, because I also twisted at the waist so my shoulders faced one wall and then the opposing wall.
"When you get really good at that, stop moving your shoulders," Adair said.
Gulp. Suddenly my brain tangled. How do I move my arms again?
"I got it!" yelped fitness instructor Cindy Dockendorf. With Adair's help, others were soon windmilling like first-graders.
Adair held up her fists and circled one finger at a time, clockwise then counterclockwise. "Now circle a different finger on each hand," she said. It sure as heck made us stop and think. That's the point. Work those brain cells. Build those bridges.
Adair moved on to "rainbow arms," where we circled a ball and tracked it with our eyes.
Next, we stood with arms stretched wide and tapped our shoulders, head, shoulders and finished with arms open. Adair did this several times and then did it with her right hand only. She let the left arm join in later -- but off by a beat. What a mental minefield! Try it with a friend.
We lose tiny bits of balance and dexterity as we age, unless we practice. So give these moves a try. The cool thing about these exercises is that we can do them at any age to build muscle memory and help rewire our brains for the long journey through life.
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725
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