Add a mental task to an exercise to improve brain health

by Jay Hiller, November 27, 2022

Photo by Priyanka Singh on Unsplash

Years ago, when I did a lot of long endurance runs, I found that a lot of the endurance involved dealing with boredom. I would entertain myself by picking out random numbers and figuring out their square roots. Little did I know that by combining that kind of mental task with exercise, I was working on the health of my brain.

It turns out that that combining mental tasks with physical tasks is effective for improving executive function, processing and attention. (Source Glatt, R. 2019-2021, Brain Health Trainer Course, American Council on Exercise.) You can combine physical tasks such as squatting, stepping, balancing and strength exercise with mental tasks such as math, working memory, verbal fluency and rhythmic tasks. An example of how this might work might be to hold a squat and throw a ball against a wall as you think of as many kinds of sandwiches as you can. Practices such as dancing where you have to remember sequences of steps or sports where there’s an element of unpredictability, such as basketball or tennis are also good for brain health.

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