Are you always losing your phone or your keys? Do you have trouble remembering directions? Maybe climbing that tree in your backyard would help! According to a study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills by University of North Florida psychologists, Drs. Ross and Tracy Alloway, engaging in proprioceptively dynamic activities for just a few hours can dramatically improve your brain’s cognitive performance.
Alloway and Alloway broke new ground with their experiment, focusing on the relationship between proprioceptively dynamic activities and working memory for the first time. Participants included adults across a wide age range, divided into one experimental group and two control groups. The experimental group had their baseline working memory tested, and then completed two sessions of proprioceptively dynamic activities with breaks for working memory tests after each session. These activities included climbing trees, balancing on a beam, moving while paying attention to posture, running barefoot, navigating obstacles, and lifting and carrying objects. In contrast, the other participants did not get to have nearly as much fun trying to improve their working memory… The first control group sat in a lecture hall and listened to new information for two hours, and the second practiced Kripalu yoga – a type of yoga focused on posture and bodily awareness.
The researchers found that the participants who balanced on beams, ran, climbed, and did other proprioceptively dynamic activities significantly improved their working memory performance. Meanwhile, the control participants did not show significant working memory benefits from their tasks. Alloway and Alloway explained these results in terms of how quickly the brain needs to adapt to an ever-shifting environment during a proprioceptively dynamic activity like balancing on a beam. While the participants who practiced Kripalu yoga were learning to be aware of their bodies, the researchers suggested that they were not moving quickly enough to use – and strengthen - their working memory.
Alloway and Alloway designed their experiment based on prior research examining the relationship between exercise and the brain (Take a look at this great cartoon!), including a previous study that showed how a neuromuscular and proprioceptive training program could reduce injury in soccer players, and another that indicated the physical and cognitive benefits of proprioceptively demanding activities for elderly people. In the future, Alloway and Alloway would like to determine which forms of proprioceptively dynamic activities are most beneficial for improving working memory. Until they know which ones are best, though, just have fun! Climb a tree at lunch, and then walk along a curb on your way home… Your brain will thank you!
Alloway, T., & Alloway, R. (2015a). Climb a Tree for Working Memory: Part 2. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tracy-alloway-phd-and-ross-alloway-phd/climb-a-tree-for-working-_1_b_7944200.html
Alloway, R. G., & Alloway, T. P. (2015b). The Working Memory Benefits of
Proprioceptively Demanding Training: A Pilot Study. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 120(3), 766-775.
Bergland, C. (2015). Want to Improve Your Cognitive Abilities? Go Climb a Tree!
Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201507/want-improve-your-cognitive-abilities-go-climb-tree
Godwin, D., & Cham, J. (2015). Exercise Gets the Brain in Shape. Retrieved from
Heffner, C. L. (Ed.) (2015) AllPsych. PsychCentral.
Mandelbaum, B. R., Silvers, H. J., Watanabe, D. S., Knarr, J. F., Thomas, S. D., Griffin, L.
Y., . . . Garrett Jr., W. (2005). Effectiveness of a neuromuscular and proprioceptive training program in preventing anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 33(7), 1003-1010.
ScienceDaily. (2015). Climbing a tree can improve cognitive skills, researchers say.
Shubert, T. E., McCulloch, K., Hartman, M., & Giuliani, C. A. (2010). The Effect of an
Exercise-Based Intervention on Physical and Cognitive Performance for Older Adults: A Pilot Study. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, 33(4), 157-164.