Written by: Katherine Dreyer, Co-founder of ChiRunning, ChiWalking & ChiLiving
In our last visit to AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), where we have taught running and walking to the staff for years, we met with their new group whose focus is on Brain Health.
“Brain health is the new heart health,” we were told. “And what we’ve learned is that the best way to improve your brain’s health and functioning is for you to teach your body something new.”
A healthy heart is, of course, crucial, but your brain’s health is in charge of all of your body’s systems. A decline in your cognition can mean a decline in many aspects of your health.
There are many ways to improve your cognitive function. AARP has 5 Pillars of Brain Health: Move, Discover, Relax, Nourish, Connect. From their research with the leading organizations on brain health, they have come to know that exercise is at the top of the list. And even more effective is using your brain while you’re moving, and teaching your body new ways to move.
“Sudoku. Crossword puzzles. Computer training. Half of Americans believe these games and mental tasks keep their brains healthy, according to a 2014 AARP survey — but there is little evidence that they do. If you really want to retain mental clarity and improve your odds of staving off dementia, researchers say, hit the gym.”
When your mind is paying attention to your body, teaching it something new, paying attention to what the body is doing, and moving at the same time, the brain’s cognitive functioning gets the best workout and the best results.
ChiRunning and ChiWalking offer you the perfect opportunity to improve your brain’s functioning while also improving cardiovascular health, emotional balance, building bone mass and learning techniques to protect your body for the rest of your life. The mindfulness component of the Chi techniques can be like a meditation for the brain, curtailing your mind’s proclivity to jump from one subject to another.
Focusing your mind on your body, on your breath, and on learning something new, quiets the mind and gives you access to the unexpressed messages from the body. As you get good at Body Sensing, you tap into a deeper wisdom that is housed, not in your mind, but in your body. You’ll become more aware of what your body needs and be able to respond more appropriately. We call this the Upward Spiral of Chi.
According to the New York Times, in How Exercise Affects our Memory, “Even a single workout may make our brain’s memory centers, like our muscles, more fit.” However, learning something new and repeating new patterns of movement helps build new neurotransmitters in your brain, making connections that were not there before. The new science of neuroplasticity tells us that we are very capable of rewiring our brains, but it takes focus and attention.
According to the Huff Post article, Rewiring Your Brain, “Each time your brain strengthens a connection to advance your mastery of a skill, it also weakens other connections of neurons that weren’t used at that precise moment. This negative plastic brain change erases some of the irrelevant or interfering activity in the brain.” In other words, by repetitive practice, your brain can be rewired to do and experience an activity, such as running or walking in a new way, and in doing so delete old ways of thinking and behaving.
Additionally, when you have repeated positive experiences, such as feeling good after a run or walk, you are rewiring your brain to associate running and walking with that positive experience. When your efforts to learn healthy skills for running and walking pay off with less pain and more joy, your body is even more likely to repeat those same patterns. This helps you stick to your exercise regime and learn new, positive ways of experiencing and being.
Meanwhile, new studies about the brain in your gut only adds to the benefits of ChiRunning and ChiWalking. The focus on your dantien in your lower abdomen gives you even greater access to the brain in your gut which is home to your creativity, intuition and a greater sense of the whole of any experience.
As science catches up with what the great T’ai Chi and meditation Masters have known and passed down for thousands of years, the confirmation of the benefits of ChiRunning and ChiWalking keeps expanding and deepening.
To improve your brain’s health, focus your mind, strengthen your core and keep your neurotransmitters firing and connecting. Learn, explore, discover, connect and KEEP MOVING!!