The All in One Tool to Clear the Cobwebs out of Your Brain
Nancy L Swayzee, MES, NMT
Edited by Frank Carton
We’ve all had fuzzy moments. Some call them senior moments, but people of any age can relate to completely blanking on something for a second. You don’t have to take these moments lying down. This exercise guide will help you keep your brain active and understand the connection between mind and body.
In her many years of experience as a rehabilitative therapist, Nancy Swayzee, MES, NMT, has developed techniques to encourage brain function.
Exercise, or as Swayzee calls it, “active movement,” can encourage blood flow to the brain. MOPSI stands for this particular process: Movement—Oxygenation—Play—Stimulation—Interaction. These five components are vital for your health.
Swayzee designed the exercises for any age. Seniors may use them to keep active, while children can have a great time playing the games. Cognitive function can be encouraged and activated at any age.
Swayzee adds commentary to her various exercises and teaches readers the basic foundations of neuroscience and rehabilitative therapy. Swayzee explains the neurological basis and history of each exercise. Readers will finish the book with a better understanding of how their bodies function and how movement in one part of the body can affect other systems.
I dedicate this book to my granddaughter, Madelyn Kylee Bond, without whom this book would not have been possible.
Her personal injury, her resilience, her willingness to work, and her amazing spirit are what inspired me to write this book.
I dedicate this book to my granddaughter, Madelyn Kylee Bond, without whom this book would not have been possible.
Her personal injury, her resilience, her willingness to work, and her amazing spirit are what inspired me to write this book.
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge and thank my fabulous editor, Frank Carton. His patience with my particular writing quirks is a testimony to his professionalism. A fellow writer and dear friend, he not only corrected my punctuation errors, he restructured my run on sentences. My excitement about this subject lends to my going on and on and on . . .
I must give special mention to a small business, No Problem, here in Grass Valley. It is a computer-help, repair, straighten-out-messes, teach-their-patrons, and clear-up-viruses business. Three great guys, Rob, Chris, and Mike, have really allowed this book to be possible by getting me out of more computer messes than you could imagine. My undying gratitude to them for their help.
I thought this would be a good place to explain the “writing quirks” I referred to in the Acknowledgements. I tend to write like I talk … which is a lot. With all this talking, I need to take breaths, hence, the commas.
Because I must have been “Out to Lunch” during basic English Grammar in high school, somehow I never absorbed the basics of punctuation. Although my speaking grammar is close to flawless, I have to admit that I LOVE dots, dashes, italics, parentheses, ellipses, hyphens, quotations marks, semicolons, and colons! The combination of my excitement about the subject, together with the speed with which my brain jumps around, explain all the parenthetical information. I no more start to explain something, then I think of something else (hopefully connected) that I need to add.
Regardless, I’m hoping the interest value, as well as the good intentions that began this book, will allow you to overlook my flaws and see the information as flawless. If the over-punctuation [sic] tends to make you itchy or exasperated, put the book down, walk around the room, take deep breaths, and come back to it when you’re ready. By the way, IMPORTANT! Make sure you get your physicians “okay” before you do any of the exercises. Take it with you and let them see what they are.
Table of Contents
Just for Starters . . .
It seems we have always been fascinated with what is inside our head. Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle had different views on what exactly the contents inside the skull did. It wasn’t until Galen, the Roman physician, put together, that injury to the head of a gladiator often resulted in loss of some kind of function within the body. It took until the late 1960s for the Society for Neuroscience to be established. The study of the connection between the nervous system and the brain began to expand.
Still, it is common in human practice to see things as separate, hence, the era of specialization. Studying the separate components of the functions of both the body and the brain, has allowed for in-depth research of individual components of disciplines such as neurology, psychiatry, neuropathology, and neurobiology. Neurobiology has probably come closest to studying the integration of the body and the brain. This book is about the connection and the integration of the functions of the whole body and the whole brain. It is a brain training book about using your body to facilitate better use of your brain. Whatever the reason you found this, it can have the power to change your life for the better.
Recognizing the potential we have to improve, increase, strengthen and sharpen our cognitive abilities, by understanding the crucial link between using our body and using our brain . . . the fact that they are inseparable opens a world of possibility you may not have known was there. This is a program that uses the whole body in a specific way that uses the whole brain. It’s also a program that benefits the whole body by the specific nature of the use.
This is not a breathing program, but it does involve the breath. It is a program, through physical movement, that promotes the increase of oxygen in the blood that nourishes the whole body and the whole brain. The purpose of this book is to offer a unique science-based method that is designed to slow down the cognitive decline associated with aging. Although this program has not been clinically evaluated yet (except on myself), I see results every day, not only in myself, but in my students. The entire concept was and continues to be based on the latest neuroscience as it is released to the public. In addition, I search the web for any of the newest research in the pipeline.
So the first thing I should do, is tell you what MOPSI stands for. It an acronym for Movement – Oxygenation – Play – Stimulation – Interaction: MOPSI, the five things absolutely necessary for both physical and mental and emotional health. This fully-packed book has a variety of topics for the curious reader. I say curious because the science in this book is definitely directed toward the reader who loves to learn.
Not an exercise book, it is full of active movement and physical activities that allow a scenic tour through the interaction between the body and the brain during exercise. I explain some of those mysterious processes that the body and brain do to keep us functioning, without any direct commands or instructions from us. I wrote the book for a broad audience, particularly men and women in their 60s, but it is as important for someone in their 40s or 50s, who may be witnessing the slow cognitive decline of a parent or a spouse. At a workshop I recently gave to professionals primarily under 60 who were caring for elderly parents . . . they couldn’t wait to get their hands on this book.
This program is perfect for someone who has just been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, or any other disease that is positively impacted by the addition of regular exercise at a moderately low level. It is appropriate for anyone who has a large amount of weight on them, because it’s slow and gentle and can be a great “fill-in” between harder workouts, and allows for a period of maintenance at whatever level they have achieved. People who are seriously overweight have probably not been moving much. That means they have not only been short-changing their brains of oxygen, they haven’t been producing any of the BDNFs you will learn about in Chapter Three. I am offering some solutions.
The addition of the DVD of the exercises, demonstrated by myself and a couple of other older adults, is important. It not only gives enormous value and convenience to the reader, but it allows you to see how to safely and effectively do the exercises. Using your eyes and ears to initiate the processing of information is how we develop from infants into thinking, functioning adults!
The written exercises reach the brain in a way the visual ones can’t — and vice versa. Because you’re using your language centers to read them, you are unconsciously building images in your mind. More good news: if you read them out-loud, you get twice the benefit. You are actively using your speech centers and your auditory cortex. When you see the exercises on the DVD, this either reinforces or corrects what that image is. Now you can go back to the written description, and it all makes sense!
First, I am the author — a 77 year old — full of energy, enthusiasm and passion for what I do. Most important of all, this is a program adaptable to any and every physical condition. It’s perfect for seniors living in an assisted-living situation, even if a fitness program is being provided, it’s often not enough to offset the ravages of time and the normal cognitive decline associated with aging. These are small exercises that can be done by someone confined to a wheelchair or who is unsteady on their feet and needs to exercise sitting down. They take very little space, so they can be done in small spaces like a small apartment or an office cubicle. Some of the exercises can even be done in bed! Here is a quote from a male patient with MS, whom I worked with for about two years. I went to his house twice a week and we worked in his small living room, with a grand piano, an organ and two large dog crates. I asked him to tell me how he felt about the exercises I was teaching him.
He said: “As more and more things were taken away from me (the ability to do), I just curled up into a little ball and became more and more isolated. After my fall on July 4th, two years ago – I never expected to even reach 65 years of age. What has changed is hope . . . light at the end of the tunnel. I discovered I could still have some of the things I loved (playing music), in my life. It was learning I could just learn to do them in a new way. Learning to do things differently.”
The program can be interactive, like Chair Dancing and Ball Room Dancing, (things Bob and his girlfriend learned to do), because many of the exercises are the most fun when done with a partner. They are a great opportunity for play time between grandparents and their grandchildren, and very important, between spouses!
When was the last time you thought about your brain? (Now, thinking about your brain is a little like the chicken and the egg thing, but I mean really, do you think about your brain?) As far as that goes, when was the last time you thought about your body? I don’t mean body image or “Do I have a deadly disease?” I mean think about, wonder about, how amazing these two things are — consider how difficult living would become if they weren’t both operating at maximum capacity. The perfection of the human body/human brain connection is as fascinating as quantum physics! (In fact, it IS quantum physics!) In Michael Sweeny’s brilliant book Brain: THE COMPLETE MIND HOW IT DEVELOPS, HOW IT WORKS, AND HOW TO KEEP IT SHARP, he compares it to quantum physics by the unpredictability of our thinking processes. It’s been called the Chaos Theory. He says, “Precise measurement — the basis for a physically deterministic world — becomes impossible at the smallest scale, i.e., electrons and neutrons, etc. There is always uncertainty, and thus we can never fully know our world — or the brain.”
Sadly, we abuse them with too much food, drugs, and alcohol, bad mouthing them all the time with remarks like: “Boy, am I stupid.” “I HATE my body.” “How could I have been so dumb?” Here’s a little secret . . . Your brain and body hear you. You’re sending them the wrong message. They need to know you care about them. We allow them both to lie idle while we mindlessly punch keypads with our thumbs or fingers: trancelike, motionless, doodling on iPhones, iPads and iTunes.
The NBC Nightly News released the results of a Harvard study that showed that people who let their minds wander from their activities at the moment aren’t happy. Their minds are often busy scanning their “To-Do Lists,” running their “should haves, could haves,” through their minds. The experts’ conclusion: Living in the moment, being “present,” is where true happiness lies. Here’s good news: Utilizing MOPSI requires that you be present. These activities are designed to utilize focus and concentration in order to follow the ever-changing patterns of movement. Don’t get me wrong, I am not completely anti-tech, but the danger is that so much “i” stuff tends to disconnect us from ourselves. Since my business is bringing attention to both the body and the brain — in particular, their connection — I thought I’d drop some simple, easy trivia about this co-op we inhabit, which you might find interesting.
The neocortex, the “thinking” part of our brain, contains eighty-five percent of the brain’s one hundred billion neurons. Although the average adult brain weighs about three pounds, it uses twenty percent of the body’s blood and oxygen supply to function. By the way, if the neocortex were opened up and spread out like a map, it would cover 500 square inches of the surface it was lying on. Think about THAT! The carotid artery leaves our heart and carries fresh oxygenated blood directly to our brain. This is a good reason to make sure our “cardiac pump” is strong! When physical activity ceases, the supply of fresh blood and oxygen is diminished.
When this occurs, all the systems and tissues in the body suffer. Even our organs can’t function properly, and our cells (the stuff we’re made of and think with) die. The ten to twenty billion nerve cells that make up the neocortex are like telephone lines that relay information to other parts of the brain. Don’t get confused by all these numbers. I know they may not appear to be adding up, but neurons (the one hundred billion) are made up of nerve cells. They use a pint and a half of blood every sixty seconds, use twenty-five percent of our energy supply, and burn about four hundred calories a day. This is what gives us unlimited ability to learn and relearn new information during our entire lifetime. Calculations of space, force and timing, as well as balance and coordination, take place in one twelve thousandth of a second. We process thoughts at about two to three voltage cycles per second. Brilliant!
Oh, wait, there is one caveat: there must be movement. When we move our bodies, our vestibular system in the inner ear sends a signal to an area in the middle brain that sends another signal to the neo-cortex (our thinking brain) to “wake up and pay attention.” Believe it or not, this begins even before we are born, at about five months in utero. Without movement to activate this exchange of signals, we don’t take in or retain information from the environment. The signals created by movement allow us to learn, remember, and create. Movement and oxygen are interrelated, so we can put the first two letters of MOPSI together to make MO. MO equals more movement, which equals more oxygen! Speaking of oxygen, the air we breathe is made up of only twenty-one percent oxygen, and seventy-nine, percent nitrogen. If our brain requires twenty percent of the oxygen we breathe, then obviously our ability to breathe deeply and fully is of primary importance. Physical movement is the primary way to move that oxygen up to the brain. Here comes MOPSI!
Some time passed before I was ready to write this book. I was still working with individual patients and teaching exercise at Tahoe Forest Hospital. I began this book in 2005, the year I created the Breathworks for Your Brain exercise program. Because so much research had occurred since 1998, I took those concepts and created an exercise class I described as “Exercise to Make You Think.”
I recently visited a nursing home, where the mother of a friend has gone to live. When I entered the lobby, I saw it was filled with elderly people in wheelchairs, or in chairs — alone. None of them were conversing, there was no interaction. One woman was holding a huge teddy bear to her chest, her eyes open, but not appearing to see anything. She started to push her wheelchair forward, and as she did her slipper started to come off her foot. I went over and asked her if I could help her put it back on. She said “Yes.” I placed it back on her foot and pushed her chair close to a gentleman who was staring into space. I knelt down in front of him and asked his name. He looked at me blankly. I asked him again. He muttered something so softly and with such little use of the muscles in his face or mouth, I couldn’t catch whether or not he had actually responded.
I turned to the woman in the wheelchair and asked her name. “Mary,” she answered. I looked at the gentleman and said, “This is Mary. Tell me your name again.” No response. He looked at me with a sad, lost look in his eyes. Then, my friend, whose mother I had come to evaluate, entered the lobby. I walked over to her, overcome with grief at the scene I had just participated in. It has made me passionate about spreading the good news: We do not have to end up like the gentleman without a name!
The secret to prevention of that deterioration can only occur from understanding the connection between our body and our brain: That they are totally dependent on one another and preserving them requires taking the appropriate action. Maintaining focus on a task, while doing a physical activity, produces brain chemicals and neurotransmitters that create and strengthen brain cells that keep our brain working and sharp. (It’s the giving up/giving in that kills us mentally.) What are the things the body and brain need to stay functioning? As I already mentioned, they are Movement, Oxygenation, Play, Stimulation and Interaction. The combination of these ingredients provides what is necessary for both a body and a brain to stay healthy for as long as possible, precluding genetic, accidental, or disease interference. What makes us remember? (A whole bunch of things!) Movement: active movement is vital to brain function; brain function is crucial to movement. Movement is the primary transporter of oxygen throughout the body and, most important, to the brain. You noticed “Play” is included in MOPSI. That’s because the inclusion of play into your daily activities boosts everything, from the speed of our thought processes to our immune system.
Let me give you a small, example of MOPSI. I worked with a husband and wife, who were 88 and 89 years old respectively. They were both in good health, but he was in the early stages of dementia. When I was asked to spend some time with him, he was having difficulty remembering his children’s names. He was showing signs of aphasia, a condition brought on by any of the following: stroke, brain injury, and dementia. He was having difficulty finding words. He knew what he wanted to say, but couldn’t access the word. His reaction was complete frustration and a great deal of fear. He felt as though he were losing his mind. So did his family.
His fear and difficulty in expressing himself had caused him to shut down. He quit talking and pulled deeper into himself. This stately gentleman had had both hips replaced, making it necessary to use a walker for balance and stability. He was about 6’3” and no one had adjusted the walker to fit his tall frame. As a result, he walked hunched over, collapsing his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe deeply when standing or walking. He was practically folding his lungs in half! (Try walking around the house taking small, shallow breaths, and see how far YOU get, before you want to sit down.) On my first visit, the position of the walker got my attention. I lengthened it to allow him to stand up fully. Having been in a bent-over position for months, he still stood that way. I asked, “Were you in the military?” He said, “Yes, I was in the Navy.” I said, “Well, stand like the military man you are!” That’s all it took. He straightened his back, lifted his chest and stood with the dignity this great guy deserved.
I began to engage him in conversation that required him to tell me his children’s names. At first, he couldn’t remember and struggled in fear and frustration. As I began asking him general questions, he responded with correct answers, although with some hesitation due to his lack of confidence. We would work for about two hours, simply having a back and forth conversation. I discovered that if I simply let him talk, he struggled with only a word or two, but if I asked him a specific question that put him on the spot, his brain froze up and he couldn’t access the word.
I gave him the homework of making a list of the things he wanted to tell me on the next visit. He did that the first few weeks and soon thereafter needed only small reminders. I asked him what he did during the week and he’d relate what he had done with only a slight stumble or so. I said, “Hank, can you see you haven’t lost your mind or memory at all? It’s still all there. Your ability to retrieve just got weak. Your mental picker-upper, so to speak.”
As both his confidence and retrieval system began growing, we started playing word games. I would throw out a word, and he had to say the opposite. Examples: top/bottom; black/white; fast/slow; etc. He was slow at first, but over a few weeks, his ability to find words improved. Another word game consisted of going through the alphabet and saying words as fast as we could think of them. We’d take turns, both starting with “A,” then “B,” and so on. As with the opposites, his speed of thought improved and increased. Stimulating the language centers in the brain produces visual images (that we may not even realize appear); this, in turn, stimulates the memory retrieval system. It’s much like playing Hide & Go Seek.
But back to MOPSI. Let’s begin with movement. Hank and Jenny told me they had been great dancers when they were younger (actually, up until the time of the hip replacements) and how they missed dancing. I said, “Let me show you how you can still do it.” I had him walk over to a flat-bottomed kitchen chair and sit down. Then, I had Jenny sit in another, facing him so their knees touched. We put on some fabulous jitterbug music, they interlocked their fingers and began to dance.
Jenny, who is still spry and active, tended to lead, pushing and pulling their arms to the beat of the music. It was fast and energetic. They were smiling the whole time. After a couple of weeks of dancing, we started playing ball in the house! We set up three chairs in a triangle formation in the kitchen, and began by bouncing the ball to the person next to us. The key was to keep it going — no dropping or fumbling the ball. Of course, we all did, but the focus it required to keep it going around was great for the brain.
The second phase was for me to shout out whom to bounce to. This involved major participation by the auditory cortex, an area that seniors use less and less as their hearing decreases. It also required fast response from the motor cortex, another one that is often allowed to get lazy as we age. The processing of the word and then following with the physical action forces the brain to work harder; believe it or not, our brain wants to work. It is a task-oriented organ/system, and concentration and focus are one of its favorite and most rewarding tasks. The third phase of the ball-playing was to add a second ball. This sped up the pace considerably, and the energy it took to bounce and then catch the balls (in two different directions) involved larger motor (movement) activity. This strengthens the need for rhythm, another necessary component for the brain; more about that later, when we talk about music.
Because of his double-hip replacements, Hank would need his walker for mobility for the rest of his life. One day, as I was driving over to their house, I began to think about having them dance standing up, the way they used to. When I got there, we put on a wonderful slow song they had loved to dance to “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” I had them both go to the kitchen, where the floor was smooth and easy to slide on. Hank moved inside his walker a little more and stood up straighter, with Jenny on the outside, facing him. She held onto the walker with him, and they danced all around the kitchen floor. At first, Hank was nervous, and tended to look down. Then, I said, Hank, look into the eyes of the woman you love.”
That was all it took to recapture a romantic memory that had been such an important part of their lives together. It became a part of their lives; spending time with exercise, play, and emotional enrichment, so necessary for a whole body and a whole mind. Sadly, later that year, Hank had a necessary surgery that put him in bed for several weeks. He never fully recovered, and he died early this year. Jenny just turned ninety-one and is still going strong!
Back to this “All Systems Go” idea, the biggest miracle of all is how these systems work together, twenty-four hours a day, for let’s say, a person of eighty-eight years. That’s 771, 392.00 hours . . . all of it without our having to think about it! The heart keeps beating out its rhythm, pumping the oxygen-rich blood throughout our body at an average of 5 liters a minute (at rest), our breath finding a comfortable pace, both responding to our physical activity, our emotional state and, of course, our lifestyle.
Our gut keeps breaking down our food and moving it along the assembly line, separating the useful stuff from the not so useful; storing the glucose for short term energy, converting the other foods to fatty acids for long term energy, sending the sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc. and the amino acids where they need to go, and using the protein to build anything that needs building or repair. Pretty ingenious! Absolutely as miraculous as Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The “connectedness” is what makes it all work: communication between the 25 trillion blood cells that transport that blood, together with conversation between the 50 trillion or so other cells of tissue and bone. That’s basically what it all comes down to: communication.
Consciousness is what sets us humans apart from other living things. I am not referring to the ability to feel emotions. I am talking about our response to those feelings. I’m speaking of the “knowingness,” the feelingness of those emotions and our physical responses that accompany those emotions. The knowing we are feeling anger or anxiety or sadness or joy. Noticing how and where we feel those emotions in our body. Noticing what and where we are receiving sensory signals about the state of our body. Are we too hot, too cold, too itchy? Do my feet hurt? Are my pants too tight?