Oops, I’ve been absent from the blogging world for a little while, and I’m blaming a bad case of spring fever. My garden’s been calling me. But during my absence, I’ve also been busy learning more about some of the latest trends in fitness. One wonderful opportunity that presented itself to me was to attended a four hour class explaining Ageless Grace.
Ageless Grace is a fitness strategy aimed at restoring neuroplasticity. In other words, waking up old neuropathways and creating new ones to the muscles and within the brain itself. This is not entirely new, though. I’ve been doing what I call proprioceptive work with clients for 12 years now, consisting of PNF exercises (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) that I’ve learned from attending the physical therapy sessions of some of my clients. Ageless Grace, however, takes it to another level, and makes it fun. It’s no longer work, but play time involving creativity and imagination. It takes you back to your childhood, when most of your neuropathways were first developed. And, any trend that makes exercise fun is a good trend.
When we were kids, we made faces, hung upside down, shook, and moved our bodies in every way imaginable. In doing this, we developed coordination, balance, reflexes, and recovery, as well as imagination, memory recall, and problem solving skills. As we got older, some of these skills weren’t used as often. Like a path in the woods that doesn’t get traveled much, these neuropathways became “overgrown” or sluggish. The ability is still there; it just needs a little “path clearing” through use.
One of the exercises that I really struggled with was one that involved clapping and tapping on different counts as the numbers were called out to us. This uses our respond, react, and recover abilities, that as kids were quicker, because everything was new to us, and they got used more frequently. As adults though, we’ve learned to avoid and/or anticipate surprising situations, so they’re not used as often and our neural processing speed slows down. I was amazed at how difficult it was for me.
Adding to the problem of slowing neuropathways, is the fact that now as adults our brains have to sift through more information in order to recall or respond. According to the New York Times article The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind, researches are now thinking that a slow memory is not necessarily a product of getting old, but one of having more experience. Since most of us don’t want to get dumber (although there are a few memories I wouldn’t mind forgetting), I think speeding up neural processing through exercise is preferable.
The “tools”, as they’re called, in Ageless Grace are functional exercises in that they improve strength in every day skills as opposed to isolating specific muscle groups. They are never performed the same way twice, so the body doesn’t adapt. You have to imagine different scenarios each time you do them, and this is where the fun and creativity comes in.
Another benefit from these tools is myofascial release. Much of the stiffness and joint pain we feel as we get older is actually the stiffening of the fascia, a thin layer of tissue that encapsulates muscles and joints. Rolling with tennis balls and foam rollers, called self massage, is another new trend in the fitness industry, and facilitates myofascial release. Ageless Grace does it through shaking. The theory is that the friction created between the layer of skin and the muscles when we shake massages the fascia.
It reminds me of all those housewives in the 1950’s, who stood in machines that shook them hoping to lose weight. Even though they probably didn’t lose much weight from it, it turns out there were some other benefits. Along with myofascial release, it also helped produce collagen and reduced cortisol.
Did you know that most adults over 40 are oxygen deprived? We all hold our breaths several times a day. The Ageless Grace tools are very vocal, improving respiratory function. My clients laugh, because I’m constantly reminding them to breathe. We joke about having to pay someone to remind us to breathe and drink water. Well, if you’re counting, humming, singing, whistling, or just making silly noises while exercising, you’re forced to take deeper breaths, because the diaphragm contacts when we exhale.
There are many other benefits to this program, that you can read about if you click on the link above. These are a few of the ones that interested me most. PFP Magazine, a professional fitness magazine, recently published an article stating that the industry is shifting toward medically supervised fitness facilities. I think we will start to see more programs like this one, designed to improve both mind and body, which is exciting news to me. I’m looking forward to it.