Staying Sharp is a practical guidebook for building and maintaining a sharp, healthy, and vibrant mind.
Why movement works
Movement helps to keep a brain youthful in two very important ways:
- It tones down the stress response, thereby enhancing the survival of existing neurons.
- It provides brain fertilizer to improve the growth of new neurons.
The First Movement: Andante
The term andante literally means ‘at a walking pace.’ This first and most essential aspect of movement can be summarized in two words: just move.
Everyone, regardless of age or current level of activity, can benefit by this. The key is not how many tiem you stand up but how many times you stand up over the whole course of your day. It is far more benefitial, Dr. Vernikos says, to stand once every few minutes throughout the day than it is to stand up many times in quick successions.
- If you sit for long periods during your workday, try to shift your position often. It may help to sit on an exercise ball or to use a simple upright chair without armrests or a stool without a back.
- Stand up several times per hour (every fifteen to twenty minutes) thorughout the day. Set a timer if you need to.
- Do a couple of slow squats if you like before sitting down again. Or get up and reach for a book off the shelf or a cup from the counter. Or pick something up off the floor.
- Organize your office so that you have to get up for things like the phone, printer, or files.
The Second Movement: Adagio
Adagio literally means ‘at ease’ and describes music performed at a slow and stately pace. We call this ‘mindful movement’, which to us means slow, flowing, graceful movement done with purposeful awareness. Whether you consider yourself to be graceful or not makes no difference. It is the quality of begin present that matters.
Any movement that you do, you can do with greater awareness and presence.
- Yoga: Grace, Strength, and Balance. Yoga offers so many benefits that we believe a complete movement program could consist of just two things: walking and yoga. Yoga is peaceful and calming yet can be vigorous at times. It involves gentle stretching but also resistance (strength) training. It is specially good for the core muscles that are so important for maintaining posture, and it is great for people with back pain. And yoga can be done, with slight modifications, at any age.
- Tai Chi: Breath, Movement, and Awareness. Tai Chi (or its meditative partner qigong) is another great option for mindful movement. It s slow, gentle, and flowing–and can raise and sustain energy without being overly stimulating. It is a perfect addition to movement as we age, in part because it incorporates balance and memory.
The Third Movement: Allegro
Allegro movements are fast, quick, and bright. This is active movement, usually referred to as ‘exercise’. It can be as vigorous and intense as you’d like it to be, so long as you approach it safely.
One reason is that high-intensity interval training may be the most efficient, most effective, most beneficial to the brain of all forms of movement. Interval training does the following:
- promotes weight loss, especially for that hard-to-lose-abdominal weight.
- raises your metabolic rate for twently-four to forty-eight hours, burning calories long after you’ve stopped exercising.
- improves levels of hormones inluding cortisol, testosterone, and human growth hormone.
- protects against adult-onset diabetes.
- boost energy, focus, and performance.
- helps slow the aging process.
The Coda: Movement for a Lifetime
Movement should be fun. It ought to be something you want to do. The best way to ensure that you will move is to keep it fresh, to do many different things that you enjoy. Keep it light and playful. Move with others whenever you can. Most important, just move.
A helpful practice:
– Stand up every 15-20 minutes throughout the day. Never sit for extended periods without moving agains gravity.
-Incorporate a variety of nonexercise movements throughout each day.
-Walk for 30-40 minutes several days during the week. Or bike, ski, row, or whatever movement you prefer, at a light to moderate pace.
Twice a week:
-Do 10-15 minutes of high-intensity interval training.
-On alternate days, do some form of medium weight-bearing/resistance work (such as yoga, gardening, a total body resistance workout, or ligth weight lifting).
-Add a mind-body movement like yoga or qigong. Go to a class or use a home video to guide you.
Once a week:
-Do a slow resistance circuit (weight training) using maximal weights with minimal repetitions (3-6).
-Take a day of rest.