November was Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and whilst I don’t have any magical cure-alls there is lots of evidence that preventative measures can be taken and one of them involves movement, including cardio, complex movement forms that require concentration and definitely something that involves an element of play.  Because I’m not an expert on dementia, this blog is going to expand into areas that relate to the subject.

Dementia must be a terrible and scary thing to experience whether it’s yourself or a loved one and whilst I’m lucky that my mum’s memory is fine, I certainly know what it’s like to be a long-term carer as she was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma in 2005.  We’re very grateful that she’s been in remission for several years but it was a lengthy and arduous battle from which she still bears the wounds, meaning she needs regular care and both her health and mobility have been permanently compromised. 

If you have a carer’s role in whatever capacity (which could also include being a parent), do you take the time for self care to make sure you’re in a good place, feeling well and healthy and able to give from a full cup?  Two minute stretch breaks or even a walk around the block can revitalise our energy and ease aches and pains. Making the time to connect with friends is invaluable; learning to ask for and accept help when we need it can be harder than you realise but people want to help, that sense of community and connection is what drives us as human beings and a sense of loneliness or isolation makes all life’s problems seem that much heavier.  

I think that a lot of people who get involved in the wellness industry would admit that we go down that route because of our own needs.  I’ve spent a long time thinking about managing stressful situations, regulating emotions that can get out of hand and learning to regulate the huge ups and downs I experience has been necessary for survival!  I’ve also invested a lot of time, money and energy into learning and reading about what the human body needs to stay as well as possible. Seeing loved ones ill or in pain gives me the drive to want to know how to mitigate health problems and my classes reflect this.  

Beyond Pilates

In a nutshell, the Nutritious Movement Biomechanics which influences these classes is essentially all about how to stand, walk, lift and move better.  Walking and running have been shown to have a positive effect on brain function because of the foot’s impact with the ground (study here) so I’d say learning how to do it more efficiently would be a bonus!

Mindful Movement Workshops

My colleague Jane Mitchell and I run occasional collaborative Mindful Movement workshops.  Cultivating a meditation practice is something else which has been proven to help with brain health and many of us can find the upcoming festive season a stressful time, with work, family and financial pressures potentially taking their toll.  Seasonal changes which bring shorter days and little daylight at all takes some acclimatising to, the cold and damp can increase pain symptoms and make the motivation to do things hard to maintain. Learning to ease the mind and incorporate gentle movement to de-stress is an invaluable self-care tool.  Contact me to register your interest if you would like to attend a future workshop.

Animal Flow Back to Basics – Complex Movement for Every ‘Body’

Reading about dementia and general brain health set me off thinking about how to make complex movement available to everyone.   I felt really inspired by finding out that in the United States they have something called Parkour Silver (link here), which is basically a highly adapted version of free-running movement made more accessible to older folk with more limited mobility.  I know that Mike Fitch who invented Animal Flow was partly inspired by Parkour so it got me thinking…

It occurred to me that age isn’t the only defining factor if the full version of Animal Flow isn’t quite accessible – some of my clients might have pain or mobility issues or be in injury recovery, or just not accustomed to weight bearing on their wrists for extended periods of time.  I have adapted a lot of the movements to still include coordination, rotation and fun but with a lot less load bearing to make it more inclusive to a wider demographic. For the office folk out there, you could come to a lunchtime express Animal Flow class if you don’t think your office is quite ready for this…  

I talked about the brain-health benefits of complex movement in my recent Animal Flow blog but will break down some of the terms used a little further in the list below for those of you who are interested:- 

  • BDNF – Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor – protein which helps to support the survival of existing neurons, and encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses.  Can be increased through exercise, meditation and deep sleep (which becomes easier when we do more of the first two…)
  • Neurons – cells of the nervous system which carry electrical impulses.  Made up of the cell body, dendrites on one end and axons on the other.  
  • Neurogenesis – the growth and development of neuronal tissue.
  • Synapse – structure that permits a neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal from the axon on the end of one neuron to the dendrites on the other end of another neuron.  
  • Synaptogenesis – the formation of synapses (connections) between neurons in the nervous system.  Can be temporary or permanent, meaning that if you do something once the synaptic connections don’t necessarily last but repetition helps to build new skills.  An element of play makes that process happen quicker!

I’ve included a few extra links below with further information:

I came across this website while trying to research why play is so important to the learning process. https://happyologist.co.uk/growth/why-learning-through-play-is-effective-fun/ 

This is an article about playgrounds for the elderly which are popping up in cities all over the world.  Never mind just the elderly, what about all grown-ups?? I take my niece to the playground but feel really conspicuous getting involved, even the kids look at me funny…  Let’s face it, I’m quite happy to be an outlier but many aren’t, and in my humble opinion we should never stop playing on the monkey bars! Plus it means getting outside which is also important for mood and health. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20191028-the-cities-designing-playgrounds-for-the-elderly

I read a while back about the importance of chewing as a somewhat lost movement with all the processed food in our diets these days.  I like a smoothie as much as the next person but always make sure there are plenty of whole nuts and seeds to chew on if I’m having one.  The Tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ or basically your jaw) is very closely linked to the brain and chewing regularly helps to maintain cognitive functions.  I’m not so keen on chewing gum, I think it needs to be something of texture like nuts, jerky, dried fruit or veg like carrots and celery that have a firm texture. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/articlespmc//PMC4466515/