- Written by Ann Skowron
- Published: 06 September 2019
The Fun Way To Build The Brain
I’ve always felt that exercise should be fun and not feel so much like exercise. When you combine exercise for the body and for the brain, and add lots of fun, you have a new class called M-3 (Music, Motion and Memory).
There is a lot of ongoing and new research into Alzheimer’s prevention or delay. As an aging baby boomer myself, I have been very interested in what is happening in this field of research. As a fitness professional, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could do to help people. There are lots of great exercise classes, but none have really addressed lowering or delaying the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s by making the brain work a little harder while you’re also working your body . . . until now.
After two years of research and some trial and error, I created a class that works for a wide variety of exercisers from the chair-bound to the very active.
Research suggests many benefits to exercise including that people who exercise have a lower risk of cognitive decline. Exercise has also been associated with lowering Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles in the brain. Mental stimulation is another pillar in the fight. Learning new things, challenging the brain, and puzzles and memory games also help cognitive function, with lasting effects. Socialization, something we don’t think about much, is also very important for brain health. We are social animals and staying socially engaged may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in later life. So developing and maintaining a strong network of friends is a priority.
As a fitness instructor at the Erving Senior Center, I was encouraged to develop a class that might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. After two years of research and some trial and error, I created a class that works for a wide variety of exercisers from the chair-bound to the very active. M-3 addresses almost all of the suggested actions to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s: regular exercise, social interaction, mental stimulation, and stress reduction. It’s hard to feel stressed when you’re laughing and having fun!
So, what does an M-3 class look like?
Well, for starters you’ll notice this class is a bit livelier with more social interaction than many other exercise classes. Participants are encouraged to move around and talk to each other, and everyone always gets to choose what feels right to them.
Although the specific content of the class changes weekly, every class includes the same core elements. We always start with cardio to get things going. While the heart rate starts to go up, movements are added that are effective in building the brain. We might have you crossing different planes of your body, like reaching across your body or raising one hand up and the other down. This is what we call “body puzzles.” Tapping your head and rubbing your belly is an example of a body puzzle you might be familiar with. Remember, there are no “wrong” movements. People have a lot of fun while working out the M-3 puzzles. Laughter is a key element!
We intersperse cardio with “games” that are designed to make you think or work parts of your brain you might not use a lot. For example, you might be asked to put a small paper plate on your head and draw a scene without looking at the paper. Or there might be a rollicking game of weighted balloon volleyball played with sticks and using chairs as the “net,” or pom ball hula hoop bocce.
While we’re in chairs there are several “brain games” that might be added in. In our version of “Left, Right, Center,” very soft balls are tossed in a circle and participants are given directions at a faster and faster rate. This game always ends up in a group free for all and lots of laughter, but you’re exercising your brain and body the whole time while having fun.
And music! I would be remiss not to mention the music. Music is one of the keys to fun movement, and a core element of every class. How long has it been since you’ve done the Stroll? How about doing some cardio to “Devil with the Blue Dress On /Good Golly Miss Molly?” Or a game to “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny and Cher? Or to Lloyd Price’s “Personality?” We play a fun variety of music you know, and it’s sure to get you moving.
The major ideas behind M-3 classes are to have fun, move your body and exercise your mind. Classes are currently available at the Erving Senior Center. Why not try a class? After all, fun never grows old or retires.