Last week, we talked about three ways to nourish the nervous system:
- Physical Activation
- Mental Activation
- Reducing Mechanical Distortion
This week, we are going to concentrate specifically on Physical Activation.
Physically Activating the Nervous System is Progressive
One of the most amazing things about the nervous system, and our body in general, is that if it is de-conditioned, it doesn't take much stimulus to effect a change! That's good news if yours has been down for awhile, whether from injury or life just getting in the way.
If you haven't be doing much, all you have to do is something!
Go out and take a walk, go an extra lap at the grocery store, or throw the ball for the dog at the park. It will start to turn things on in your brain. As you become more comfortable with activity itself, progress to incorporate more specific stimulus.
The Nerve System Likes Timing
One of the major players in the central nerve system (brain and spinal cord) is the cerebellum. Originally, the cerebellum was thought to only modify movement. As research progressed, its role in timing was discovered: the cerebellum is what allows you to "keep time or a beat" catch a ball or dance effectively.
What has come to the forefront recently is the role the cerebellum plays in organizing thought, memory, and learning. In some cases, it has been dubbed a Supervised Learning Machine. The implications of this are huge. It is possible that activating the cerebellum (which is best done by physical activity) may help such diverse conditions as ADHD and Dementia.
How do you involve the cerebellum in exercise?
- Playing Catch
- Bouncing a Ball
- Skipping and Hopping,
- Balancing on one foot
- Marching in place
- Aiming (throwing darts, playing pool, golf)
- Skipping rope
- Tennis / pickle-ball / ping-pong
The Nerve System Likes Variety!
The fact that our nervous systems really are "learning machines" is both good and bad. You really don't want to have to re-learn how to walk everyday - that would really slow life down! On the other hand, when we have really grooved a pattern or motion, it loses its ability to stimulate and activate our nerve system effectively and our return on investment for the time we spend exercising is diminished.
There are several ways to combat this:
Periodization is a concept found in athletics. Rather than training the same way year-round, you cycle your training in order to keep your system from growing stagnant. There is a nice article on this by the American Council on Exercise.
Progression is pretty much what you would think: going from easy to hard, or simple to complex. It is applied for the same reason: to keep your system fresh and capable of growing!
Let's look at an example of applying these two concepts to a nervous system exercise like walking: You start out in March with a walking program since you haven't really done much over the winter. Walking is good because it is easy to progress, rhythmic, and can be done just about anywhere.
March / April: You start walking around your neighborhood for 20 minutes every other evening 3-5 times per week at an easy pace.
May /June: The weather is getting nicer so you increase your walking to 30 minutes and try to hit 6 days per week still at a moderate pace.
July / August: It is starting to get hot and you are getting a little tired of the routine, so you switch to walking every other day (3 days per week) for 30 minutes, but now you really push the pace by alternating a really fast pace, while passing three houses, followed by a moderate pace for three houses.
September / October: It is starting to cool off and the trees are beautiful. You keep the 3x/week interval sessions you did during the summer, but you add in an hour-long walk on weekends at Happy Hollow Park (hills!) at a moderate pace.
November / December: You plan on doing a 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, so you sign up and talk your spouse or a friend into doing it with you. You know you are going to eat more in December, so you make a pact with your spouse or friend that you will walk six days a week through December for at least 20 minutes and keep doing Happy Hollow on weekends up until Christmas.
January / February: It is cold and icy outside, but the mall is empty, so you try to hit the mall 3x/week for 30 minutes and get back to the interval training (walk fast past Cinnabon, moderate pace past GNC).
You just completed a year of stimulating your nervous system! Throw in other things like golf, Frisbee, shooting a basketball, or playing catch with the kids/grandkids, and you are well on your way to activating the nervous system year-round.
Dr. Sue Activating Her Nervous System and Living The Final Four Dream!
There are infinite ways to physically activate your nervous system. The most important thing is to just go ahead and get out and do it! Don't wait, head out the door after reading this blog post, even for just 5 minutes, you won't be sorry!
Next week, we will talk about the value of mentally activating your nervous system and some practical ways to incorporate it into your daily life.
Yours in Health,