by Felicia Zadok
As fitness instructors we have one of the greatest gift to offer individuals…the love of movement. Through movement we can assist an infinite number of people to be more emotionally and mentally agile; to adapt more easily to the world changes, as well as to assist them to thrive.
When one adds exercise into their daily routine, they are gifting their body with an increased blood flow to both muscles and brain. The two main functions of the brain are survival and life adaptability. When we exercise, we are exposing our brains to more oxygen and beneficial proteins. These proteins are what keep the neurons (cells) of the brain fed and healthy, which results in a person having more energy, happier temperament, and reduced levels of stress.
Through regular exercise, the neurotransmitters of the brain are ignited to release endorphins (“happy” hormone), dopamine (chemical messenger for motor control), oxytocin (“cuddle/love” hormone), norepinephrine (behavior mediator; fight or flight), and serotonin (regulator of mood, body temperature, and appetite).
Simply put, neurotransmitters assist one’s mood by helping to alleviate anxiety and stress, increase feelings of calm and happiness, assist in regulating appetite and boost better sleep patterns. Therefore, increasing both the production of an individual’s neuroplasticity and balancing one’s emotional agility. Neuroplasticity, also referred to as neuro-agility, is the ability to be intellectually sharp and quick. It also has to do with moving with nimbleness between ideas. It's all about being able to think fast and flexibly, to be focused and alert. Emotional agility is the ability to experience thoughts, emotions and events in a way that doesn't drive the individual to take negative actions, but rather to reveal his/her best.
In our fitness programs, there are a number of major aspects that assist our clients with both emotional and neuro agility.
Pools have always been our safe haven to work out in. Studies have shown that when immersed in water, there is a boost in the blood flow to the brain.
The simple act of moving the body is a good beginning. Cross-lateral movement can be quite beneficial to add into our class programs. A cross-lateral movement is when the arms or legs cross the midline of the body to reach from one side of the body to the other. This helps to increase whole brain performance. When the whole brain performance is increased through movement, the emotional balance of an individual stabilizes.
Here is an example of a simple cross-lateral exercise: Have your members clap their hands and then cross their right index finger to their nose as they reach with their left index finger to their right ear, clap hands again and switch sides. Often the first few times might be frustrating but with a few giggles, persistence and focus, it will become second nature.
Beginning and finishing a class with stretching is vital to assisting the flow of oxygen to the brain. Doing stretching exercises for the neck, shoulders, arms, back and legs will enhance blood flow, suppleness and relaxation of muscles, concentration and focus.
Relaxation is also important to incorporate into an exercise program. This can be done by offering a visualization exercise, a guided meditation or simply practicing a few moments of happy silence.
And of course, there is always the addition of music. Music is a mood inducer. String instrument music combined with sounds of nature triggers the areas of the brain responsible for relaxation and alpha rhythms, which makes the brain more receptive to absorb larger volumes of information.
Though it not a hard scientific fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the color blue improves mental wellbeing. Blue tones of the ocean and sky are said to calm the mind and aid concentration. Those of us who cannot bring our students into the pool can bring the aspects of blue to them. Be creative. For example, use either a pool, ocean, or beautiful blue sky backdrop in your zoom classes, wear blue yourself and offer you students an all blue clothing day class.
We are strong leaders, and we must always remember that the strength of our brains comes directly from the strength of our generous emotionally loving hearts.
Felicia Zadok is a New York-based Personal Development Coach and ordained Melchizedek Priest. She has been a group fitness instructor for over twenty years, certified with both ACE and AEA. A fun fact about her – she is also a professionally certified foot reader.