Exercise – Maximizing the Health Benefits – Part 3 – Neural, Balance, Coordination

Coordination and Balance Exercise Will Prevent Falls and Actually Cause New Neural Growthexercise-balance

Neural Generation

This is the third in our exercise series and is dedicated to balance, coordination, and neural health. The last post dealt with joint health, and certain exercises that will maintain it. So while you are repairing your knees or other joints, why not add a few new nerves. It had long been the conventional medical wisdom that you would get no new ones and were lucky to hold on to the ones you already had. Not true at all, though still widely believed. These next exercises aren’t particularly strenuous either, but build balance, coordination, agility, and, as promised, new nerves, including ones in your head.

First exercise. (You can do this between your squat exercises from the previous post.) Stand on one foot. How long can you balance? Switch to the other foot. At first, your legs may feel a little wobbly. This is because the nerves needed to precisely control the muscles aren’t activated yet. This doesn’t take long, and fairly soon the shakiness will go away. Simple as this is, it is an excellent neural exercise. You are working out neurons all the way from your brain to your foot and back, plus the numerous little muscles that control stability and balance.

Pretty soon, you will become adept at this, and will be able to stand on either foot for however long you want. We are now going to add a new wrinkle. Go find something about the size of a quart carton of milk and place it upright on the floor. Now then, while standing on one foot, bend down, however you can, and pick it up. Repeat with the other foot. If this hurts, you have discovered a new joint to work on. In this case, use something taller. The whole idea here is to keep your balance while standing on one foot and bending over to pick something up. Keep this up till you can pick up coins from the floor. By that time, you will have built a lot of new neurons, and toned up quite a few small balance muscles. You can turn this into a game. You and your opponent each supply a roll of coins. Take turns picking them up. If you have to put a second foot down, you lose your turn and your shot at the coin. Don’t play this with a kid. You’ll rapidly go broke.

IfFancyFootwork-template you can hop 18” on one foot, you could play hop-scotch, one of the best (and oldest) agility games on the planet.

We will conclude this section with another fun exercise that’s an agility builder. Get some masking tape and stick four pieces on the floor forming a one-foot square and then divide it into four quadrants. Label the quadrants A, B, C, and D. Now then step back and forth on C and D, C-D-C-D… then shift to A and B, A-B-A-B-…then back to C and D and so on. Now do this pattern, C-D-A-B-C-D-A-B… speed it up. It would look like this (the foot on the floor is shown, your other foot should be in the air):


The faster you can go the better. Up and back 10 times in 10 seconds is a reasonable target. Rest 10 seconds and go again. Once you get good at this (won’t take long) change the pattern.

Standing on A and B, put your right foot on C, which should be behind your left foot, then, the right foot back goes back to B, then your left foot on D and back. This pattern would look like this:


Or think of some new patterns, the more elaborate, the better. Just remember: when you go from awkward to easy, you have built new nerves, and that’s the point. Staying with a pattern you have “mastered” is not of much use—those nerves have already been built. You can also separate the quadrants a little thus requiring a small hop to transition between them.

The next post will cover osteoporosis prevention, but by just doing the joint and agility exercises, you can, in most cases, slow down or even arrest the development of osteoarthritis, and greatly reduce the likelihood of falling. All of the exercises can be easily done at home, with practically no equipment at all.

Here is a possible exercise schedule

Monday – 30 minute Friday-30 minutes
Stretch Joint exercises as needed, knees, hips, etc.

Balancing exercises

Agility exercises

Ping pong

Stretch Agility exercises

Balancing exercises

Joint exercises as necessary

Speed bag

Balance on wobbly objects


This is hardly any work at all—fun really—and if you have been relatively sedentary, will work wonders in a hurry.

At this point, you will be accomplishing the following: Your joints will be building new cartilage. You will be headed toward full, pain-free range of motion in your joints. Your coordination will significantly improve due to new nerves being built. Muscles involved in balance will tone up.

Three areas will need further attention: Osteoporosis prevention will require exercises that stress the large bones. Reducing the risk of heart attacks will need exercises that vary the heart as much as safely possible. Driving all the cells to peak performance, and hence warding off all other degenerative disease, will mean a couple of 45-minute intense exercise session weekly. As you progress, these intense sessions would partially supplant the sessions proposed above.

Neural Generation – Are New Nerves Actually Getting Built

Not only are new nerves getting built, but with the exercises in the two posts coming soon, even more will be built. It was medical wisdom for decades that no new new nerves ever grew, and we would have to behave if we were to hang on to the ones we’ve got. So getting new nerves—neurogenesis—was thought impossible..

Now for starters, this obviously doesn’t apply to children.They are growing, their heads are growing, and so is the material inside.  This was thought to end with puberty, but in the 60’s various researchers were finding some chinks in that armor. First, the neurogenesis was found to be occurring in the hippocampus, the area of the memory responsible for short term memory among other things. Then other researchers found evidence of neurogenesis in the neo-cortex, the conscious part of our brain. Like most research that treads on the toes of the established dogma, it was ignored for 25 years, kind of becoming mainstream in the 90’s. In fact, it is now, or at least should be, common knowledge.

But pertinent to this series of posts is that the best way to stimulate this new nerve and brain growth is exercise, particularly balance and interval exercise. We haven’t gotten to interval exercise yet, but bear with us, we soon will.

It turns out that the hormone that is directly stimulating nerve and brain development—neurogenesis— is Insulin Like Growth Factor-1, a very widely tracked growth hormone and one that is directly stimulated by exercise. So if you want to keep all your marbles and perhaps add a few, exercise is the key.

However, exercise isn’t quite enough to get IGF-1 working for you. First, stress will block it, and second, it mostly works during sleep. Low stress and sound sleep are as important as exercise.

  2 comments for “Exercise – Maximizing the Health Benefits – Part 3 – Neural, Balance, Coordination

  1. Louise
    August 16, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Could you comment about why this is a leg and foot exercise? Is that prefered or just easier for most people to do without special equipment?

    One could do agility with other parts of the body. For example, the speed bag uses the hands and arms; rock climbing uses everything.

    • August 17, 2015 at 9:37 am

      Hi Louise,
      The principles apply to every part of the body; the joint health, mitochondrial demand/response, the coordination and neural stimulus is important in all areas. You are right, that is true. There are two points to make, more or less in our defense, for not expanding on this point:
      One: space is limited
      Two: a lot depends on the ‘foundation’ which is the lower body so start there
      I know you know how central I think speed bag work is for example. Rock climbing has it all. Still, Louise, not everyone gets to live in California or is capable of hitting the crags! Dr. Mike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *