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Exercises for mind-body health

Both physical and mental activities are brain-boosters. But what’s better is combining the physical with the mental. “This can be even more potent in keeping your grey matter shipshape,” said Dr Simon ​​Ting, Senior Consultant, National Neuroscience Institute​ (NNI), a member of the SingHealth group. Here, he suggests some mind-body exercises to consider. ​

Go dancing:

​Dancing, especially learning new​ steps, boosts both body and brain. “For a person who’s not explored dancing before, learning even very simple dance steps can be mentally stimulating.” This is supported by a pilot study by NNI a few years ago which involved a small number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The study, conducted in collaboration with a dance club, found that dancing improves well-being.

Keep learning, keep busy:

​Playing a game of Sudoku or learning a new language are brainboosters. But if a task is repeated too many times, its positive effect on the brain can wear off because the brain has less to process. “So it’s important to cultivate a habit of continual learning and having multiple interests, along with exercise, to keep the brain active.”

Encourage the hand-brain connection:

The human hand, in particular the thumb, impacts the brain’s primary motor cortex in a disproportionately large way compared to the rest of the body. “The primary motor cortex generates signals that control motor function, such as the movement of the arms and legs. This means that use of the hands can stimulate the brain and improve neuroplasticity.” Writing by hand stimulates the brain. “I often advise patients with dementia or memory issues to write more, by perhaps keeping a diary. For the brain, writing is a very complicated task, which keeps it busy as it has to assemble various motor, language and visual codes.”

Make it regular:

Dr Ting notes that in many clinical trials people are encouraged to do physical exercise at least three times a week if they are generally fit. Brisk walking and hitting the treadmill are some beneficial exercises which can also be easily done on a regular basis.

​Go outdoors:

The elderly, people with dementia, and the less physically fit benefit from exercising outdoors. “People who suffer from brain disease tend to remain at home most of the time, but the more they stay home, the fewer stimuli they get. This can be detrimental to their physical and mental health.” Family members or caregivers are encouraged to take them outdoors for walks or strolls around a garden for half an hour or so, every day.​

See previous page to learn about the ​health benefits of exercise​.

Ref: O17​