Exercising the Brain – Lauren Turner AEP

Cognition is the mental process of acquiring knowledge through the senses, thoughts and experiences. It influences our brain’s function for memory, attention, comprehension, problem solving and formulating knowledge.

Exercise can be designed not only to help improve and maintain physical status but can also aid in cognitive development and maintenance. It has been widely recognised that participating in exercise on a regular basis can help prevent and slow the progression of chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Exercises focused towards cognitive function can also support mental function in patients who have sustained an acquired brain injury or been affected by a stroke.

Cognitive skills can be challenged through the incorporation of memory, problem solving and comprehension activities. These types of activities are suitable for a range of ages from young children to older adults. Here are some examples:

Memory: These types of activities can involve set patterns, numbers or words that needs to be remembered. An example of this is a game that can be played in a group, either sitting or standing. Each person chooses a type of animal, colour or city (depending on the theme). Then a ball is passed around the group. The person passing the ball must recall the name that corresponds to the person they are throwing to. To add difficulty to this exercise, participants could be required to stand on one leg or stand on an uneven surface, creating an element of balance.

Problem solving: This involves having to work through a scenario or finding a solution to a problem. The best example of this type of exercise is the use of number or word problems. This could involve participants to work through certain times tables or name words that follow a common pattern. For example, a group of participants are to name a word that starts with the last letter of the last word called. So, if the first word called was apple the next word that could be called is elephant and then the next word would have to start with T and so forth. This exercise can also be performed seated or standing and can incorporate a balance activity to increase level of difficulty.

Comprehension:  With these exercises you can incorporate activities that require the brain to process verbal cues. An example is to have the participant hold a small ball in each hand, with each ball being different colour (eg. One green, one blue). When the colour green is called the participant must throw that ball to the assisting person. To add difficulty, coordination-based activities could be incorporated. For example, the participant starts on the ground on hands and knees with 3 different coloured cones placed on either side in a line (from hands to feet). They must listen to instructions as to what cone to tap and which limb to move (e.g Twister).