Guest Post From A. Lynn Caras
9 Crossbody Exercises To Improve Concentration Focus, Memory, and More
If you're over 30, you've probably started focusing on your brain health. Concentrating, paying attention, learning, and recalling information only becomes more important with each passing decade of our lives. One way to keep your brain healthy is through regular physical exercise - not "run a marathon" level, just some simple movements that use both sides of your brain. Let's look at some easy movements we can do at any age with little risk of injury; but first, let's talk about why they work.
Cross-Lateral Exercises: The Science Behind Their Brain Boosting Benefits
Cross-lateral exercises, which involve moving the arms and legs across the midline of the body, have been shown scientifically to boost brain health. These movements encourage communication between the brain's hemispheres, improving cognitive function and overall brain health.
First, cross-lateral exercises enhance brain plasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize and form new neural connections. This can lead to improved learning, memory, and problem-solving skills. These exercises have been found to help prevent age-related cognitive decline. They may even reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's dementia.
Second, cross-lateral movements improve physical coordination, balance, and motor skills. These exercises can be a huge help to individuals recovering from a stroke or brain injury, whether it's as part of the rehabilitation process, increasing motor skills, or just keeping the brain's neuroplasticity robust.
Some exercise programs are naturally cross-lateral, like yoga, tai chi, power walking, or even simple marching in place. These all stimulate both hemispheres of the brain and promote neural connectivity which is why we notice feeling mentally more sharp and a sense of well-being afterward when we do these kinds of exercises.
Wiring up - it really takes off with crawling…
Crawling is one of the earliest components of brain-building; our brain's neural connectivity really explodes when we start crawling. In fact, there is research that shows that children who do not cross-pattern crawl often have learning challenges later, like dyslexia and other types of developmental delays.
Activities that use both sides of the body working together help to build and strengthen the neural connections between the two halves of the brain. This is important for overall brain function and can affect our cognitive abilities in a good way at any age.
Crawling is particularly good for stimulating neural connectivity as it requires coordination and synchronization of movement on both sides of the body. As we cross pattern crawl, the brain constantly sends signals to different parts of the body to move in a coordinated way (hopefully), which helps develop and maintain neural pathways. Even as an adult, we can re-integrate mind-to-muscle communication and reinforce this cross-brain connectivity; it's amazing what movements that cross the body's midline and use both sides of our body can do. Try physical fitness activities like skipping, marching, or swimming. Even switching to your non-dominant hand while brushing your teeth qualifies (beware - this one can be messy at first!) These types of "crawl exercises," incorporated into our daily routine, keep the brain constantly improving its neural networks, growing, and regenerating, so they improve our overall brain health.
How You Can Rewire Your Brain
When you look at your body in the mirror, envision an imaginary midline from the top of your head to between your feet. Mid-line crossing movements involve moving one arm or leg across the midline of the body, which rewires the brain's communication pathways. When we perform these movements, the two hemispheres of the brain are required to work together, leading to increased communication and information sharing between them. If you have become less active, like a forgotten garden, your pathways become overgrown, cluttered, and even disappear.
Regular motor activities, even the simplest exercises you can do while seated, that physically require midline exercise-like movements will improve coordination, balance, core strength, eye coordination, and motor skills. They also have been linked to improvements in cognitive function, learning capability, memory, recall, executive function, and attention as well. By challenging the brain to coordinate movements across the midline of the body, we create new neural pathways and reinforce existing ones. With time and repetition, they help improve brain function and overall cognitive performance, turning back time to a brain like we had in our younger years.
Midline activities may also help delay Alzheimer's and other brain disorders that impact memory, thinking, and cognitive functions due to the shrinking of brain cells. There's even some evidence that Parkinson's, impaired social skills, cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and depression and anxiety can all be improved with simple exercises that require your both sides of your brain and body work together. And, we're not talking a huge commitment! It's this easy:
- How often should you do them: Daily
- What equipment do you need: An exercise mat and/or chair
- How much space do you need: Just enough to put your arms out laterally
What kind of improvements can you anticipate? Some won't be noticeable at first, but you should experience increased self-awareness and see improvements in vision, concentration, balance, coordination, memory, recall, and communication over time. Considering how that these are really basic exercises, that's a nice payoff.
Developed as part of a program called Brain Gym (a form of mind-body science for nervous system development), we're going to look at some mid-line crossing movements that have been clinically demonstrated to improve the functionality of specific neural pathways/neural networks so your body and mind work harmoniously together. You can adapt these into any kind of intentional cross-lateral activities or other daily activities whose patterns of movement stimulate the left brain and right brain (vacuuming, dusting, polishing a car, etc.). With each move remember: cross - body movements create cognitive coordination.
Let's learn some of these essential skills from Brain Gym!
- Stand straight with your legs hip-width apart, shoulders rolled back, chest up, and look ahead.
- Lift your right leg and bend your right knee slightly. Place your right leg softly on the floor.
- Lift your left leg and bend your left knee slightly. Place your left leg softly on the floor.
- Do this 30 times. You can use a chair if you find it difficult to march without support.
- With your legs hip-width apart, shoulders rolled back, and chest up. Look ahead.
- Lift your right hand above your head. This is your starting position.
- Lift your left leg off the floor and bend your left knee.
- Simultaneously, bend your right elbow and try to touch the left knee with your right elbow.
- Get back to the starting position. Do the same with your left hand and right leg.
- Do three sets with eight repetitions.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, hands laterally up, and elbows slightly bent.
- Lift your right foot and touch your right ankle with your left hand.
- Place your right foot on the floor and lift your left foot.
- Try to touch your left ankle with your right hand.
- Do 15-20 reps.
- Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands laterally up, and elbows slightly bent.
- Lift your right foot and try to touch your right ankle with your left hand behind your body. You can bend a little to the side.
- Place your right foot on the floor and lift the left foot.
- Try to touch your left ankle with your right hand behind your body.
- Do 15-20 reps.
- Stand with your legs close together.
- Take a step toward your right with your right leg.
- Place your left foot next to your right leg.
- Take a step toward your left with your left leg.
- Place your right foot next to your left leg.
- Do this 30 times at a slow to moderate pace.
- Stand or sit on a chair and close your eyes. Roll your shoulders back.
- Lower your head and tilt it to the right side.
- Roll your neck from the right to the back, from the back to the left, and then down in the center. This completes one neck circle.
- Repeat 10 of these before doing the same on the left side.
- Sit straight on a chair or stand. Cross your right ankle over your left ankle.
- Extend your hands in front of you. Put the backs of your hand's to each other. Now cross right hand over your left hand and interlace your fingers.
- Twist to roll your hands down and toward you. Hold your interlocked fingers to your chest. Take six deep breaths.
- Release the hands and do it again; this time with your left ankle over right one, and your left hand over your right, interlace your fingers and roll down and towards your chest. Take six deep breaths.
- Do this 3-5 times.
- Place your left palm on your belly.
- Place your right hand's thumb and index finger an inch below your left collarbone. Move the fingers in a circular motion toward your midline.
- Make 10 circles.
- Place your right palm on your belly and left fingers an inch below your right collarbone, and massage in a circular motion toward your midline.
- Make 10 circles.
- Either draw a big infinity symbol on a piece of paper to follow with your eyes, or envision one around you that you can trace with your shoulders or hips. Start by moving your gaze or with a slow motion toward your left shoulder to begin. For shoulder eights, just move your upper body; be sure to include some trunk rotation as you sway your way around hip eights.
- Trace it 20-30 times in each direction.
These cross-body movements help to synchronize and balance our brain hemispheres. Some of these "brain exercises" are used in occupational therapy to rebuild neural pathways, but you don't need to be undergoing occupational therapy to benefit from the brain and neuron-building outcomes. If you can incorporate even just a bit of this type of movement into your daily schedule, you'll be doing your brain a huge favor.
If you're an athlete, consider using these ideas for adapting some of your skills to use both sides of your body. For instance, basketball and hockey players are more apt to use both sides of their bodies versus a football or baseball player who regularly uses the same arm to throw or catch. There were times when I worked with Teresa Tapp, the creator of T-Tapp, when we would have a Hoe-Down challenge (one of her signature exercises.) Often, kids could beat out professional football players because they had better left-brain-right-brain coordination!. It is very gratifying for an 8-year-old to show up as a professional football player. While this move seems simple at first, but when you get to the "singles", you may experience brain freeze as your hand crosses your midline. Try it and see how you do!
How To Support Your Brain Exercise Program
The benefits of training, whether it's aerobic physical activities for body strength or midline crossing activities for improved cross-body coordination, or cerebral activities that challenge and build our complex brain's neural networks, take energy. First, building and maintaining lean muscle mass helps to keep us in good physical shape. Medical grade liquid collagen, like the 3x hydrolyzed micropeptides you find in AminoSculpt, can quickly go to work in your bloodstream to feed your muscles. But interestingly enough, collagen also feeds your brain! Your brain is about 60% fat, but it also is protein. Just as we start to lose collagen in our bodies every year, our brains lose collagen and mass at about 5% per decade. Yep - brain shrinkage is a real thing! So collagen is part of your brain fitness "stack" (as they say in the neurohacking world.)
There's also significant research that a good multivitamin is essential for brain health as we age. That isn't rocket science; our bodies need to round out the vitamins and minerals that have been so depleted by our farming practices in our food supply. But some nutrients are vital to brain health: magnesium, calcium, D3, methylated b vitamins, stress busters like ashwagandha, antioxidants to protect fragile brain tissue, and most importantly, Nitric Oxide. Nitric oxide (NO) is a gas released when your body converts l-arginine. It plays a crucial role in brain health because it acts as a signaling molecule that regulates various physiological processes. For example, it improves blood flow, bringing nutrition and oxygen to the entire body, especially the brain. Nature's Optimal Nutrition- Energy from Health Direct is the only multivitamin clinically shown to increase nitric oxide naturally. Even better, it's a liquid multivitamin. Most people don't realize you get very little of the nutrients you've invested in from tablets or capsules; their breakdown and absorption rates don't allow for much to be released before they are flushed out by your digestive processes. The bioavailability and absorption of Nature's Optimal Nutrition ensure that you are getting your money's worth...and more importantly, it's a complete nutritional "stack" to make sure you're feeding your body and brain.
I'm also very excited by the recent developments around BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which your brain uses to make more brain hookups. Exercise helps our bodies create BDNF, but as we age, we become less efficient at making it. Keep an eye on our blog posts; a new way to help your body make more BDNF within just 30 minutes of taking it will be discussed here soon!
Byun JE, Kang EB. The effects of senior brain health exercise program on basic physical fitness, cognitive function and BDNF of elderly women - a feasibility study. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2016 Jun;20(2):8-18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4977910/
More brain exercises for neuroplasticity, click here.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
A. Lynn Caras is a health advocate and yoga instructor for over 15 years. Her fitness, cooking, and home management articles have been published in multiple blogs and she also works as a ghostwriter.
Lisa Moretti is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the largest nutrition school in the world. She was at the top of her cohort in 2015. She's professionally been involved in the natural health and supplement world since 1981.