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Refresh and stimulate

A group of women exercising.

There is a certain amount of discussion right now in the mainstream and social media about what is known as intelligent exercise.

This is possibly partly to do with the lockdown and the focus away from the use of specialised gym equipment dictated by the Covid-19 restrictive measures. As a result, exercising without equipment and examining the wider benefits of working out has become fashionable lately. This has also promoted a discussion about coordination and the relationship between the cognitive and the physical.

Take Sara Davenport’s 15 March 2021 article for The Telegraph as an example of this.

What Davenport discusses in her piece is how evidence is building that certain activities and physical processes (not all of which are exercise-related) can fight against dementia and the impact of the ageing process on the body and mind. As such, Davenport offers a range of such processes in the article, including using different hands for various activities, meditation, running and even spinal checks, amongst others, which she argues can keep the brain as fit as exercises do with our bodies.

I wholeheartedly endorse what Sara Davenport has to say on this front.

For myself, I advocate regularly for people to bring together the mental and physical challenge as far as possible when exercising and to see both as intricately related, as opposed to being isolated in separate realms. This can be achieved by adding complications to exercise routines, or by building super-sets that involve manoeuvres that need full mental engagement, and by avoiding standard work out routines.

My problem with following a standard workout is that the brain will quickly learn the processes involved and will deliver on them, eventually in an automatic manner and in a way that avoids as much demand on the mental as well as the physical. In so doing, these routines become less and less demanding, exertion becomes weakened, and the positive impact of exercising becomes increasingly diminished.

The outcome of which is that the results which may have been in focus at the start of the exercise routine get lost in the mechanical effort and the process itself becomes the goal. For some people in this position, all that matters is completing (or “getting through”) the workout with a depleted sense of accomplishment.

But simply completing a workout is not an achievement in itself if the workout is not demanding and does not grow the fitness or the engagement of the person doing it. In this context, the workout can have the same impact as climbing the same set of stairs every day. It’s a physical process, certainly, but one which the body and mind simply accommodate as the price of living.

So, look to do several things to ensure that the workout programme followed has an impact moving forward (and not just months ago when it was started). Set a period of time when the workout programme will be refreshed or changed-up; think ahead to this point of change and plan for what the new or tweaked workout will be; switch between workouts that build muscle or strength and those that push cardiovascular gains; mix in exercises or routines for short periods and which may off the beaten track (I count yoga in this category) and always look to what complications can be added to a workout to keep the brain alert when exercising.

The outcome of all of the above will be demanding, refreshing and stimulating exercises that deliver results and a more rewarding exercise experience for the person working out. It will also be more enjoyable, less mechanical and invigorating.

Which is the whole point of working out, non?


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