Tag Archives: Playground

Monkey Bars and Your Brain

Lonesome surfer catching waves at sunset at

Sunset surfer catching a wave on Central Coast, CA.

By: Tina Davidson

It is pretty obvious that a regular exercise routine is part of a healthy lifestyle.  Not only does exercise help keep our bodies fit but also our minds. This is a mantra I want to instill in my children and hopefully one day (in the very distant future) my grandchildren.

So, since I have a ways off until any tiny creatures are calling me “G-ma”, I’ll do my best to help my young children improve their executive function skills.  Studies have proven that these skills, like the ability to pay attention, multitask, and control responses, are improved with exercise.

Stand Up For Your Right to Exercise

It seems you’ve got to get children running and playing so they can sit longer and focus in the classroom.  However, I suggest the public education system consider standing desks over traditional desks because according to a September 2014 Time.com article, “sitting is killing you.”

The future doesn’t have to be bleak and we can help our children increase their longevity.  One way to do this is to teach them “the single most important pilates exercise for you and your children” which is the sit to stand exercise, according to pilates expert, Alycea Ungaro. (Please see article on tips to safely perform this exercise).

Stand up

I tried this exercise and it is a little tricky getting back up once seated. I guess I’ll just have to practice more and find a “helper upper” to join me.

Exercise Your Right to Play

Perhaps you tried and your child is just not interested in the sit to stand exercise. No worries, structured exercise is not required to help children develop better executive function skills.  Gretchen Reynolds’s article, “How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains” for The New York Times states this point well:

Encourage young boys and girls to run, jump, squeal, hop and chase after each other or after erratically kicked balls, and you substantially improve their ability to think, according to the most ambitious study ever conducted of physical activity and cognitive performance in children.

The details of the study are worth checking out.  The results support parents who allow their children to run and play freely. I’m very encouraged by this– no more sheepishly dragging my children away from the playground when they appear to storm through the area like Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. (Of course, I don’t allow them to respond, “I”LL EAT YOU UP!” when I tell them it is time to leave.)

Take the Monkey Bar Challenge

Why not join in and have some fun with your children on the playground? I thought about this the other day as I watched one of my son’s classmates swing effortlessly across the monkey bars. Once he made it across, another boy was waiting in line for his turn on the “MEGA bars!” as he called them. From a five-year-old’s perspective, the bars probably look quite intimidating.

Inspired by these fit fivers, I got in line, climbed to the top of the ladder, and just hung on the first bar.  I thought I’d drop right away and wouldn’t be able to hold my own body weight. Instead, I changed my thinking (remembering Kacy Cantanzaro’s incredible display of strength on America Ninja Warrior) and decided to conquer the mega bars.  Surprisingly, I made it across and it wasn’t as hard as I imagined. I’m hooked.

I like the idea of making a workout like play and wish Jon Hind’s Monkey Bar Gym was located in California and not Wisconsin.

Step inside Jon’s gym and you won’t see treadmills, leg extension machines, dumbbells or even mirrors. Instead, you’ll find something of an adult playground: ropes hanging from the ceiling and loads of medicine balls, ladders, traveling rings, jump ropes and, of course, people. “First, we teach clients how to use their bodies (the best machines in the world!) for basic motor fitness. …”

You could always forego a gym membership and hit a local park for your workout. I’d pick one with monkey bars.  For those that want to feel the burn on the monkey bars, try bending your knees and keep them at 90 degrees while you swing across the monkey bars for a total of four times.

I’m not about to attempt the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course any time soon just because I made it across the bars in front of a bunch of kindergarten students– but I was pretty proud of myself.  As I help my kids move towards better fitness, I’ll keep a positive attitude and try to be a more playful example.  My brain seems to perform best that way.

How about you? What exercise makes you feel strong and like a kid again?

I hope to see you on the playground taking the monkey bar challenge.

Resources & Further Reading

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Inspiration for Your Brain

I had to watch the YouTube video of Stephen Jepson’s story more than once.  He’s in his early 70s and has a great zeal for life.  The video shows him hopping across rocks barefoot, walking a slack rope, riding his elliptical bike, climbing a vertical ladder supported by guide wires, and throwing knives.

Stephen Jepson is a learning theorist, inventor, athlete, artist, and a kid at heart who has turned his property into a playground. His key to a long and healthy life is play.

He says in the video, “My memory has become absolutely intense since beginning to do all these things” and he never falls.  During his playground activities, he alternates between his dominant and non-dominant hand and foot.  All of the activities shown, like playing jacks, stick flipping, and juggling on a Bongo board, are helping him build neural pathways, grow new brain cells, develop balance and coordination, and are key to preventing Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s.  One of his main goals is to prevent bone breaking falls in himself and others.

Although he never mentions the systems by name, it seems he is highly in tune with his brain’s proprioceptive and vestibular systems. Interestingly enough,  I found a good blurb about these systems on the Orange County Learning Disabilities Association’s website.  Here’s the link for the quote below:  http://www.oclda.org/sensory.html

When the neurobiology dysfunctions, it causes distortions in the sensory system of the body. Without proper neurobiological support, the ability to touch, see, and hear can be distorted. When vestibular and proprioceptive systems are inadequate, such perceptions as the ability to know where one is in space, to have a sense of time, and even to have a sense of humor can be distorted in such a way that the individual has difficulty perceiving the world correctly. Visual, auditory, and tactile responses must be able to perceive, interpret and process information so that a child can learn about the world around him/her. Without good sensory integration, learning and behavior is more difficult and the individual often feels uncomfortable about himself, and cannot easily cope with ordinary demands and stress.1

Basically, if we don’t have adequate vestibular and proprioceptive systems, we are more likely to fall since we can’t perceive where we are in space (which also hinders learning and other things).  I guess kids and adults can all use a little more play.  Many of the playground items Stephen uses, like the hurdles made from PVC pipe, you can make yourself and set up in your backyard.

Stephen reminds us that it is never too late to learn– hence, the science of neuroplasticity.

He encourages others to,”Be bold in your life choices, it is just going to make your life richer.” His message, “Never leave the playground.”

What ways are you going to play today?

Thanks to Growing Bolder broadcasting for sharing Stephen’s story!

Check out the video and be inspired!  http://youtu.be/aUf72dLf22c

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November 3, 2013 · 10:16 pm