Happy Brain Exercises
Daily Neurodevelopmental Brain Boosters
Exercise improves brain neurochemistry, neural connections, and even the number of brain neurons. I have two suggestions on the best exercise activities to improve brain health. They both have roots in human neurodevelopment and can be employed by nearly everyone. Build better brain health with a walk and a crawl.
Morning walks work magic. Many top leaders talk about how much better they think and analyze when they start the day with exercise. If you are the decision maker for your family or company, please take a morning walk.
Cadence Counts. If you are moving at 60 steps a minute, you are not walking, you are strolling. A compilation of many studies has found that 100 steps per minute as the sweet spot for walkers under the age of sixty. The data for older walkers has yet to be fully evaluated, but it appears the cadence should not slow much below 100.
Tune in. Ditch the earbuds. Tame the dopamine damage of “connectivity” and leave the phone at home. Be alone with your thoughts for the duration of your walk. Gandhi, St. Augustine, Thomas Jefferson tell us that difficult problems are resolved with contemplative walks.
Get off the pavement. The human species evolved walking through undeveloped environments. Take your walk to a quitter and more tranquil setting. More trees, less noise, and serene surroundings provide a calmer event. I personally believe that uneven and inclined pathways do a better job at stimulating neurodevelopmental pathways.
Get comfortable with a long walk. Thirty minutes a day is great, but once a week go for a sixty-minute walk. Stretch out the distance you can travel. Load up a backpack with water and try a two hour ruck walk. There is no greater brain regenerating activity than a long October nature walk in Michigan.
“Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”
It does not matter if you are an Ashtanga Yoga devotee, hard style kettlebell lifter, Crossfit firebreather, PureBarre, or Pilates disciple, there is one exercise that everyone in the fitness world has performed. For many months we all diligently worked on becoming better at this exercise and it rewarded us with crucial neural connections. The bad news is that most of us have stopped using this exercise. The good news is that we can still use the crawl pattern and reboot the brain connections that allowed us to stand and walk.
More of your brain is devoted to movement than any other activity. Despite what you have read, muscles never work in isolation. Our muscles are arranged in an interconnected, spiral, and diagonal fashion. The “core muscles” are neurologically wired to connect your left hip with the right shoulder and the right hip with the left shoulder. They are designed to stabilize your middle so you can transfer force from the hips to the shoulders. Crawling is all about that critical, spiral-diagonal connection.
Try adding two crawl training sessions a week to your fitness program. Crawls are one of those exercises that produce the “What the heck?” effect. Other activities of daily living suddenly become easier. Joints move better, posture improves, and long standing soreness resolves. Just ask any baby.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
100 Steps Per Minute
Step Cadence and Fitness
Exercise researchers have been studying gait cadence for years. A cadence of 80 steps a minute is a stroll. 100 steps a minute is considered a brisk walk. At 130-140 steps a minute, you move into jog or slow run. Recent high tech evaluations of gait cadence has been able to predict the onset of dementia in older people. For many people, walking is their primary form of exercise. Gretchen Reynolds has written an excellent *article on the walking cadence that produces optimal health benefits.
A compilation of many studies has found that 100 steps per minute is the sweet spot for walkers under the age of sixty. The data for older walkers has yet to be fully evaluated, but it appears a slightly slower cadence is a good goal.
I like evaluations of performance. Evaluations tell you if you are getting better or getting worse. The human body is in a constant state of adaptation and never stays the same. Keep track of your cadence by counting your steps for twenty seconds and then multiplying by four. Use that information to track your fitness level. Ideally it should get easier to walk, at faster pace over a greater period of time.
15 x 4 = 60 Pokey Joe.
20 x 4 = 80 Still too slow.
25 x 4 = 100 Good job.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
*Walk Briskly for Your Health. About 100 Steps a Minute, Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, June 27, 2018
The Cumulative Effect of Activity
Many people are put off from starting an exercise routine because they are overwhelmed by the time commitment they feel is necessary. Fitness magazines, exercise experts, and everything on youtube preaches–
–30 minutes of cardio three times a week
–45 minutes of strength training twice a week
–150 minutes of exercise per week
Most of this well-intentioned advice is wrong. Nearly everyone can derive significant benefit from short bouts of fitness activity that are performed on a consistent basis. Walk for five minutes twice a day. A simple routine of two strengthening exercises will take no more than five minutes. Climb the stairs in your home three times once a day. Practice getting up and down of the floor. Stay consistent with a routine of short exercise bouts and you will be healthier and stay independent for a lifetime.
More research has demonstrated the beneficial effect of short exercise sessions interspersed throughout the day. Read the March 28, 2018, New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds, Those 2-Minute Walk Breaks? They Add Up. View the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/well/move/walking-exercise-minutes-death-longevity.html
Mike O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
In the April 2018 issue, Mike O’Hara discusses the benefits of the farmer’s walk exercise. Jeff Tirrell tells you how to reduce injury to your ligaments and tendons, and tips are given for getting back out into the garden.
Find out if you scalenes are causing problems in Mike’s article, Scalene Salvation. Read the inspirational stories of some Fenton Fitness members who conquered osteoporosis.
Movement You Should Master
Modern medicine is keeping us alive longer, so now we need to put some effort into staying lively longer. Mastering specific movements will improve our quality of life and help us stay independent and injury-free. I have come up with several exercises you can use to make yourself stronger, more durable, and develop a healthier, more functional body. An exercise that I have found to be very helpful in restoring the capacity to get up and down off the floor is the Step Up.
The ability to go up and down steps will almost always be needed. Losing this ability is a sure sign that one’s quality of life and independence are quickly fading. Step Ups can be done in a variety of different directions and loaded a number of ways making them easily progressed or regressed based on goals and fitness level. Step Ups improve balance and strength in the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Depending how you load, they can also challenge the core and shoulders. The average step in the United States is 7 inches tall. Strive to work up to a 14 inch box so that no flight of stairs will ever intimidate you.
Here Coach Katie demonstrates two different versions we like to use and the benefits of each along with some progressions. Watch the video and give it a try: https://youtu.be/iGXtKyGlKMg.
1) Anterior Step up (Progression: Anterior Step Up with Racked Kettlebell hold)
2) Lateral Step Up (Progression: Lateral Step Up with one side loaded)
-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, Pn1
Movement You Should Master
Modern medicine is keeping us alive longer, so now we need to put some effort into staying lively longer. Mastering specific movements will improve our quality of life and help us stay independent and injury-free. I have come up with several exercises you can use to make yourself stronger, more durable, and develop a healthier, more functional body. An exercise that I have found to be efficient and effective is a Weighted Carry.
Very few things are more functional than a carry. You’d be hard pressed to get through daily life without having to carry something at least a few times per week. While basic, a carry is an efficient and effective full body exercise. Depending on the carry you choose, the load is virtually limitless. Performed for time or distance, carries will always improve gait and core stability. Depending on which version you use, they can also be an effective tool for improving shoulder mobility/stability, grip strength, balance, and overall awesomeness. Watch the video and give it try: https://youtu.be/PaP4-IlVAOA
Coach Chad demonstrates my top four carry picks:
1) Farmers Walk (gait, core stability, grip strength, upper back, legs)
2) Suitcase Carry (gait, core anti-lateral flexion, grip, upper back, balance)
3) Waiters Carry (gait, core stability, shoulder stability, balance)
4) Double Waiters Carry (gait, core stability, shoulder mobility, shoulder stability, balance)
-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, Pn1
Standing desks are great for posture and health, but many people have difficulty when they first start using them. In this issue, Mike O’Hara, PT gives exercises that can help you stand for longer periods of time. Watch the video for instruction on these exercises. In his article, “The Biomechanics We All Need To Know, Mike agrees with the advice given by Stuart McGill. Be sure to read about Fenton Fitness Member Jan Pilar and her success with her program.
Turkish Get Ups and Waiters Walks
When designing programs for rehabilitation patients and fitness clients, I often pair up exercises. This practice is commonly called super-setting and it has multiple benefits:
Train efficiently—You get much more work done during your training time.
Abolish performance deficits—Most physical therapy and fitness clients need to work on glaring right vs. left movement asymmetries, postural restrictions, and stability limitations.
Lose weight—Fat loss is a primary goal of most fitness clients. Pairing exercises ramps up exercise intensity and creates the hormonal response that improves body composition.
Move better—Training neurologically related movement patterns improves motor control.
Turkish Get Up and Waiter Walk Complex
How you move says more about your fitness than how you look. The pairing of the Turkish Get Up (TGU) and Waiter Walk is an exercise complex that improves gait mechanics and the survival skill of getting up and down off the ground. You will be performing a TGU and immediately move into a Waiter Walk so you need twenty yards of open space. As you get stronger at this complex and use a heavier implement, some interesting things start to happen. You get better at controlling respiration and have an intense focus on how your body moves during the TGU and Waiter Walk. My yoga friends tell me this is the focus of their practice sessions: better respiration, improved motor control, and increased strength.
Turkish Get Up
The Turkish Get Up (TGU) is generally performed with a kettlebell, but you can use a dumbbell. A medicine ball can help teach body alignment to beginners.
Exercise activities that produce the greatest rewards are the ones that take the most time to master. You can learn a barbell curl in five seconds but a TGU can take weeks to master. Developing proficiency with the Turkish Get Up will require some patience and instruction, but for the time spent, the pay off is tremendous. Complete instruction on the TGU is not possible in this short article. Watch the accompanying video and work with a qualified trainer on this exercise. Steve Cotter and Gray Cook both have excellent YouTube tutorials on the TGU.
You must have adequate shoulder range of motion and good balance to perform this exercise safely. Hold the kettlebell overhead like a waiter carrying a tray. Keep the chest proud and the neck relaxed. The upper arm should be adjacent to the head and your walk should be smooth and free of any lean or limp.
I like to train TGU rookies with a soft Dynamax ball. If they drop the ball it will not damage any aspect of their anatomy. Balancing the ball on the hand tends to teach proper alignment. Progress to a kettlebell as you become more proficient. Start on the floor and perform the TGU ascent. Once at the top of the TGU, perform a Waiter Walk for twenty yards and then lower back down to the floor with a TGU descent. Switch the implement to the other side and repeat. Perform two trips on each side.
When you perform this complex, strive to move more gracefully before adding more resistance. Get up and down off the floor and walk in a coordinated and efficient manner. Only then increase the load of the ‘bell.
View video of Mike performing these exercises here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0U9GWMI4bU&t=8s
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated. Physical performance and recovery capacity is dramatically different. If you need proof, look around for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL. The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime. I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.
Walk Your Way into a Better Gait Pattern
How well you move says more about your age and fitness level than any aspect of appearance. Walking is the fundamental functional activity we need to maintain in order to stay healthy and independent for a lifetime. Your fitness program should make your gait more symmetrical, efficient, and graceful.
Simple observation of gait patterns (how you walk) is one of the best evaluation tools a physical therapist has to lead him to the cause of your pain problems. Restrictions in stance time, stride length, and propulsion with one side of the body create the stress that drives pain in the upper back and shoulder. Limited torso rotation causes greater stress in the lower leg and early onset degenerative breakdown in the knee. The tight hip that does not fully extend is the culprit behind your plantar fascitis.
Thirty years ago, a wise physical therapy instructor of mine told me my treatment program was only successful if it “enhances the patients’ ability to walk.” Most fitness training is devoid of any activity that improves the gait pattern. Despite more talk about “functional fitness,” the majority of training programs address the body as individual parts instead of an integrated whole. Split (upper body on one day and lower on another) and body part training (arm day) artificially divides training stimulus and blunts the neural benefits exercise has on our movement skills.
Training that improves your gait pattern requires some open space and enlightened coaching. Activities that improve your walk are taxing on the neural system, so they should be performed early in the training session. The best results are achieved with consistent feedback and ongoing activity progressions.
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS