By Jonathan Chung, DC
Recent studies suggest balance-specific exercises can increase brain thickness and improve markers of cognition and memory.
Patients with concussion often ask what they can do to help improve their brain health after their injury. While many are looking for a supplement, an app, or a drug to help them get their pre-injury brain back, some of the best things you can do for your brain involve standing on your own two feet.
One of the main therapies we perform on our patients after a concussion is balance training. In some cases it is essential because the patient’s primary symptom is a feeling of imbalance. However, we prescribe balance training for all of our patients because we have seen what kind of impact it can have for the brain as a whole.
Recent studies have shown that 12 weeks of balance training had two remarkable effects on healthy adults. The first was that balance-trained individuals showed increased thickness in important brain regions associated with visual and spatial orientation. The second effect was that the patients also outperformed the control group in tests of memory and spatial intelligence. The results occurred without doing any training on the cognitive tests.
While these studies were done in healthy adults, the improvements in cognitive scores is something that is seen consistently in concussion patients getting vestibular therapies in functional neurology offices across the country. While some concussed patients with persistent symptoms may need the guidance and technology of a trained professional, most people can get the benefits of balance training from the comforts of their own home. You don’t necessarily need a slackline, Bosu Ball, or fancy spinning chair to get the brain-health benefits of balance training.
Studies have shown similar brain benefits from yoga, tai chi, resistance training, and running. Any exercise that challenges your ability to fight gravity in a standing position will give you an element of balance training. The most important part is finding the right amount of challenge that allows you to progressively improve and get better physically.
For some people, it just means standing on two feet on a flat surface while moving their head. As you feel more stable, you can do exercises balancing on one leg, exercises on thin or unstable surfaces, and then combining these exercises with head and eye motion. The ways you can challenge yourself are only limited by your imagination.
Your brain thrives on new and interesting challenges. Balance training may present a way for you to challenge yourself with new exercises that stimulate your brain and make exercise fun.
Jonathan Chung, DC is the founder and upper cervical chiropractor at Keystone Chiropractic and Neuroplasticity in Wellington, Florida. Learn more about their cervical vestibular rehabilitation program at www.chiropractickeystone.com