by Kate Maliha
Over the years, many of us have likely tried many new fitness “fads,” whether it be the latest dance fitness trend or that great new fitness machine for sale on TV. While many of these trends may come and go, there is a new type of training for healthy aging that will only increase in popularity and relevance as our population ages and we look for ways to stay healthy. This training is called “dual-task” training, and it works on the brain’s ability to regulate cognitive processes and divide attention when the body is moving. This type of training combines cognitive challenges with exercise. Dual-task training improves the brain’s ability to integrate movement with important tasks such as reading maps or signs, or even talking while walking.
Many of us may already be doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku in order to train our brains and prevent cognitive decline. These activities are great, but combining executive function tasks with exercise may really be the key to keeping the mind fit (and it helps the body too!). If you have been reading these articles regularly, you may have already tried some physical challenges such as standing on a pillow or uneven surface, or stepping over obstacles such as low cones. Those are excellent gait interventions, and now you may be ready for the next step: add in a cognitive task. Remember to begin with the level of challenge that you are able to handle without risk of falling. It may simply be carrying on a conversation while walking, or you might be able to add more. Exercise examples are walking, side stepping, balancing on a pillow, or marching in place. Cognitive drills to add in (as able) are: “spelling bee” – have someone ask you to spell out loud a list of difficult words; describe in detail something that happened recently; count forward by 7s. If all of those are easy, try the spelling and counting tasks backwards.
Remember to start wherever you are challenged but not overwhelmed. Most of all, stay safe and be encouraged – you will improve!
Please consult a medical professional before starting this or any other exercise program. This article does not constitute medical advice.
Kate Maliha, MA (HKin) has a Master’s degree in Human Kinetics and has conducted aging research at the University of British Columbia. She is the owner of Love Your Age (www.LoveYourAge.ca), a fitness company specializing in the exercise needs of seniors.