How can we become more like cats-agile, graceful, strong, powerful and always land on their feet? The answer lies in cognitive agility.
Fear of falling is the number one concern in older adults over 60. Virtually every ‘fall prevention’ senior fitness program deals exclusively with balance and nothing else. Balance isn’t bad, it’s a vital aspect in the fall prevention category or class. However, there comes a time during a fall that is the point of no return, and no amount of balancing will fix it. This is where cognitive agility can fill in the gaps.
What is Cognitive Agility?
Agility is typically meant to mean the ability to move and change direction quickly. Cognitive agility is a type of brain training focusing on the ability to reason, make a decision and then carry out a movement quickly, or in other words-developing ‘cat-like’ reflexes.
For example, imagine you are driving down the street and a dog runs out into the street ahead of you. You must decide how you want to avoid contact with the dog.
a) speed up?
b) brake/slow down?
c) swerve right? or
d) swerve left?
Within each option there are several factors to consider.
If you are thinking of swerving right-is it clear for you to swerve that way or is there another car there?
Once you make a decision you must carry out that movement quickly. This is essentially what cognitive agility is.
We train your ability to process information and move quickly and safely in a controlled environment where you won’t hurt any animals. Elements of cognitive agility include: agility, coordination, reaction, balance, memory, decision-making, and reasoning.
Why Should I Work on it?
As we mentioned, fear of falling is the number one concern, and as we age our reaction time gets slower. So right there, you’ve got a one-two combination that is sure to ruin you.
In sport, as we get fatigued our ability to accurately make decisions is impaired. Around 35 years of age, we start losing muscle-a phenomenon known as sarcopenia. As we approach 50 years old, this loss accelerates and targets our fast-twitch muscles-the ones you need to move quickly and forcefully for activities like climbing stairs or getting out of a chair/couch.
What works and what doesn’t
All of these factors combine to make us slower in movement and slower to process information. Many community initiatives try to reduce falls by focusing on awareness with limited success. Strength training has shown some improvements in cognitive agility function. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have acknowledged that working on your cognitive agility is probably beneficial in helping improve memory and coordination. In 2010, the ACSM even announced everyone should spend 20-30 mins 2-3 times a week working on it.
Most people mistakenly think that doing a crossword puzzle or a sudoku helps keep their brains active.
The truth is that exercise (both aerobic conditioning and resistance training) work the brain to a greater extent that those mind games. Not to mention the benefits you start getting in your body.
In our experience in polling our senior fitness clients who’ve had a fall/s, the common theme with all of them is that their brain was wandering or thinking about something else rather than on what they were doing. Something happened and they couldn’t react and move quickly enough to prevent the fall.
It is our belief that working on cognitive agility is the best way to prevent a fall. It increases your reasoning/processing abilities and help you stay quick and agile so if you do trip-you can get your feet under you to prevent a fall.
Benefits of Cognitive Agility
- Increased heart rate
- Preserve fast-twitch muscles by moving quickly
- Improved memory, reasoning & decision-making
- Quicker reaction times
- Ability to move feet quickly to avoid falls and stumbles
- Increased enjoyment
- Decreased risk of falls
How do I do this type of brain training?
There are hundreds of ways to work cognitive agility depending on what your strengths and weaknesses are. Some require a partner, some you can do on your own. Unlike going for a long walk (~30 mins), you’ll only do quick bouts lasting 30-60 secs is all, though you’ll repeat this type of bout (set) several times.
In simplest terms, combine two or more of the factors that make up cognitive agility (agility, coordination, reaction, balance, memory, attention, or reasoning/decision-making).
For example, you can match up balance and coordination by dribbling a ball while standing on one leg. You can also roll a die and sprint forward on even numbers and backpedal on odd numbers (agility & reasoning/decision-making) as seen below.