I’m at the tail end of the baby boomers and recognize that one of the fears of getting older is developing a neurological disorder (dementia, Parkinson’s, etc.). Everyone is seeking to avoid that type of diagnosis.
So why do we, as a culture, focus mainly on strengthening the body while ignoring the nervous system, which is where such things start? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about strength and resiliency, but I believe we tend to focus on the things we understand and ignore those we don’t.
Research on the brain and neurology has exploded in the last five years. And while we’ve been hearing about mind/body/spirit for quite some time, the reality is that in our culture, we separate the brain from the body. I believe this will change within the next 10 years. So in the meantime, I work with clients to learn the interconnectedness and the science behind the brain’s and the body’s systems.
While many of us are familiar with brain games, thanks to Lumosity and Sudoku (activities designed to keep our brains active and agile) there is a disconnect when it comes to engaging both the brain and body together. Without keeping a precise eye on the long-term goal, we could randomly aim at targets we haven’t quite deciphered.
There is a continual loop between the brain and the body. Activating the brain with good movement pays huge dividends. And this flows both ways. Good sensory perception pays off with better movement.
Nervous system, brain processes
The brain receives input from the periphery (joints, tissue).
It then evaluates and processes information.
Finally, the brain creates “efferent movement” (signals go from the brain back to the periphery), thus completing the loop.
There is a danger when we emphasize just one of these three processes. In other words, if we focus just on movement, or just on the input, we miss a piece of the puzzle. The loop and the processes feed on each other and pass information along. In order to increase our adaptive capacity (increasing our resiliency), a truly healthy approach to living, we should be addressing both the brain and the body and the information loop that is ever present .
But wait, there’s more
Your neurological system gets information from three different but inter-related systems:
Exteroceptive: Visual, auditory, olfactory, somatic (movement) and taste.
Proprioceptive: Movement, our awareness of movement, strength, heat, cold, pressure, etc.
Interoceptive: Stimuli arising within the body, especially from internal organs — heart rate, blood pressure, vestibular/balance, perspiration, etc.
Looking at any one system in isolation doesn’t give us a clear picture or road map to good health, but addressing them together will.
All of this can be confusing and complicated. However, oversimplification of such a complex system doesn’t serve anyone — which is why I have a problem with “systems” or “plans.” With that said, if you can wrap your head around the fact that brains and bodies change with a high degree of certainty and accuracy based on input, you are halfway there. Therefore movement shouldn’t be separated from brain work and vice versa. It all matters. The brain needs movement to learn and movement impacts our neurology.
Your posture is reflexive
I often talk to clients about how “finding our deficits” is a win. We all have movement and brain deficiencies. The gold comes in finding what we’re not so good at so we can work on developing that skill set. For instance, knowing that my posture is reflexive and that training my vision and balance can change my posture and pain faster and more easily than I’ve thought has long term positive implications.
Bottom line, find out what you don’t know about your neurological system and its effects on your body. When you do, you will be able to “up-regulate” areas of your brain and body that might not be working well for whatever reason. That way, you won’t keep chasing an unattainable fitness goal, you’ll be creating lasting brain-body connections for the long term.
Marty Larson is the owner and founder of Uncommon Age, a Stillwater fitness and movement studio dedicated to helping people reach their full potential. Learn more at uncommonage.com.