The Learning, Memory, and Exercise Connection

May 03, 2010

All this week, Discovery Health is showcasing "Psych Week" - six days of programming centered on and devoted to mental health. Details

In light of this, I'll be highlighting the 4 critical domains that improve brain health: physical activitymental activityhealthy food, and stress management.  Yes, I'm bloggin' 'bout the brain!

Fun Brain Fact:  Memory is formed by improve memory, create associations by creating a mnemonic...or by making the experience multi-sensory.

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The science of the brain tells us that the more "richly encoded" an experience or piece of information, the more likely it will be to survive short-term memory and move into long-term memory.

32724865So anything we want kept in our brains should be a rich sensory experience.  The more senses we activate during the experience, the more likely we will to hold onto accurate memories of it. Anything we experience that touches on auditory, visual, verbal, and even emotional stimuli will stay with us.  (Interestingly, the sense of smell creates the most powerful associations and thus this smell is a the most intense memory trigger.)

If you want to enjoy fitness, make it multi-sensory.  I recently created one way of doing it, but there's no boundaries or rules on how to do this, so try your own version.  Spring is here and the call of the outdoors is irresistible.  

I recently invented a fun fitness game with a Skyball - a ball that bounces surprisingly high.  Check it out: Maui Toys Skyball 2 Pack 

The game works as follows:

What you need: two or more people, a skyball, and a hard surface like a patio.

One person bounces the ball, performs any movement while the ball bounces a second time, then catches the ball before the third bounce.  

The next person duplicates whatever the first person did, then adds their own movement in similar fashion.  And so on...

With each turn, the list of movements grows so it challenges memory there's also the part about having to catch the ball. 

If you're unable to remember the order of movements (or miss one), or fail to catch the ball before the 3rd bounce after performing each movement, you're out (or the game is over if there's only two players).  

You can use any movement: a jumping jack, a jump, a toe touch, a sideways hop...whatever you like.  It's a challenge for both body and mind, and you get a little bit of a workout without realizing it!  Give it a try - I just did this the other day with my favorite 10-year old and we had a blast.

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Over many years as a trainer, I've encountered numerous people who have trouble remembering the exercises in their program - even when the number of exercises is relatively low.  I've learned to create associations as illustrated above, but even better is to create a story around the exercises.

32934594You can take a list of exercises in your workout program and create a "story." You can use something realistic such as a hike up a mountain, or something completely silly - the sillier the better for memory!

Make your fitness experience more stimulating for more senses and your mind will experience a stronger, more pleasing association with it.  

Jonathan Ross 
Discovery Health Fitness Expert
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Jonathan Ross — fitness expert for Discovery Fit & Health and creator of Aion Fitness — was voted Exercise TV's "Top Trainer" and named in Men's Journal magazine's list of Top 100 Trainers in America. His personal experiences with obesity — "800 pounds of parents" — directly inspired his fitness career. His ability to bring fitness to those who need it the most has made him a two-time Personal Trainer of the Year Award-Winner (ACE and IDEA). His book, Abs Revealed, is filled with cutting-edge exercises in a modern, intelligent approach to abdominal training. His leadership and fresh perspectives on fitness earn him praise as a frequent go-to source of credible fitness information.


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