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Build a Super Brain, Super Body

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"Use It or Lose It" Isn’t Just for Muscles

 

"Use it or lose it" is a phrase you hear a lot, whether in the gym or the research lab. If you don't use your muscles, they wither in atrophy. And if you don't use your brain, it can wither in its own way, too. Without constant stimulation, it just can't stay sharp.

Anytime you learn anything-mental or physical, complicated or ludicrously simple-you create new synapses as well as strengthen preexisting synapses in your brain through a process called neuroplasticity. This kind of plasticity has nothing to do with plastic food wrap or storage containers and everything to do with your brain as "plastic" in the sense of being highly adaptable to stimulus and change. Your brain is literally set up so you can keep on learning from day one to the end of your days.

But it's all too easy to misperceive neuroplasticity as something that's just about cognitive ability or intellectual function, believing that you can keep your brain in peak shape only through the use of words or numbers-by doing crossword puzzles or sudoku or by learning a new language. Doing so leaves out the vital importance of movement in brain stimulation.

How movement can affect brain function was proven in a well-known study by a neuroscientist, William Greenough, and others in 1991. In this study, rats that exercised in enriched environments were found to have a greater number of synaptic connections than rats that just sat around eating in their cages all day. The amount of movement that the mobile rats had while running on a wheel made their brains grow stronger and smarter.

Fortunately, the same thing happens in our brains, as I discussed with Dr. Wendy Suzuki, associate professor of neural science and psychology at New York University. Learning new movements not only increases the size of your neurons and the number of synapses in your brain's motor cortex and cerebellum and other areas in the brain, but also creates new neural connections as the neurons in one area of the brain communicate with neurons in other parts of the brain. (Neuroscientists call this integration and projection.)

Even better, the more your brain perceives movements as complicated, even when you might not think they are, the more brain activity is stimulated. I made use of this phenomenon in structuring the progressive element in the Super Body, Super Brain exercises, so that you can reap the benefits every time you do a circuit.

Here are a few sample exercises for you to try at home. If you're a woman, use no more than a 3-pound weight if you're a beginner, a 3- to 5-pound weight if you're intermediate, and 5- to 7.5-pound if you're advanced. For men, use no more than a 3-pound weight if you're a beginner, 5- to 7.5-pound weight if you're intermediate, and 7.5- to 10-pound if you're advanced.

Do the circuit at least three times a week, but if you want to achieve optimum results, do it every day.


Exercise 1: Opposite Arm and Leg Raise

Stand tall

 

 

Stand tall, with your feet close together, arms at your sides.

 

 

 

Raise your right arm

 

 

Raise your right arm above your head while simultaneously bending your left knee up at a ninety-degree angle, foot parallel to the floor.

 

 

 

Repeat on the opposite side

 

 

 Repeat on the opposite side. This is one rep.

Reps: 12

 

  

This Exercise Is Good for:

Brain: balance, coordination, opposite arm and leg movement, posture alignment
Body: core strength; front thighs, glutes, shoulders

 

Exercise 2: Leg Kick with Biceps Curl/Step Back and Forth

Stand tall

 

 

Stand tall, with your feet shoulder width apart, arms down at your sides. Cross your left leg slightly behind your right.

 

 

 

Kick your left leg

 

 

Kick your left leg out to the side while simultaneously doing biceps curls with both arms.
Change legs, and repeat on the other side. This is one rep.

Reps: 10

 

Ideally, these steps should be performed as quickly as possible, without losing the pattern. If you miss a step here and there, you're going too fast.

This Exercise Is Good for:

Brain: balance, coordination, footwork, speed, timing
Body: core strength; calves, front thighs, glutes, shoulders

 

Exercise 3: Semi-Squat Plié with Shoulder Raise

Super Body, Super Brain Workout Exercise Pictures

 

 

Stand in the semi-squat-plié position, arms down between your knees, palms facing each other.

 

 

 

  

Super Body, Super Brain Workout Exercise Pictures

 

  

Standing tall, raise your heels slightly off the floor while simultaneously extending your arms straight out to the sides. This is one rep.

Reps: 8

 

Be sure to keep your weight shifted back; you do not want to place your body forward over your knees. Your back should remain as straight as possible.
Do not raise your arms higher than your shoulders.

 

This Exercise Is Good for:

Brain: balance, coordination, multitasking limb movements, posture alignment, timing
Body: core strength; back, front, and inner thighs; calves, chest, glutes, shoulders

 

Super Body, Super Brain: The Workout That Does It All

 

 Excerpted from SUPER BODY, SUPER BRAIN by Michael Gonzalez-Wallace. Copyright © 2010 by Michael Gonzalez-Wallace. Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

 

Michael Gonzalez-Wallace is a highly sought after personal trainer and fitness expert. Certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, he has been featured in Redbook; O: The Oprah Magazine; Prevention; and Fitness; and on msncb.com and CNN. He lives in New York City. Visit the author online at www.superbodysuperbrain.com.

See also:

 

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