Why Climbing A Tree Keeps You Young
There are specific reasons that climbing a tree keeps you young, both cognitively and physically, says a recent scientific study, but if the monkey in you protests, there are other ways to help make your life longer and better.
I’M SPENDING the summer on My family’s “homestead”, a rural chunk of five woody acres near Olympia, Washington. Twenty-some years ago, we carved out some space from dense foliage and built homes for three generations.
And trees surround us all!
But that’s not how I know climbing a tree keeps you young. No one around here climbs them. In fact, I don’t really recommend that you regularly climb trees to keep yourself young, although, strangely, doing so would help.
Happily, there are less dangerous activities that require some of the same spatial attention and effort as tree climbing that will do the youthful trick, says a new scientific study conducted by the University of North Florida (“UNF”)
The UNF study looked at how proprioceptive activities could enhance a particular feature of youthfulness that often declines with age – “working memory”.
“… the system that is responsible for the transient holding and processing of new and already stored information, an important process for reasoning, comprehension, learning and memory updating.”
Here’s what happens to that “system” over time (click pic to enlarge):
Hey, no need for your eyes to glaze over as you stare at the graph. Just know that every element of memory processing and performance typically declines over time except vocabulary.
Now, before you sprint to the lowest hanging branch in your neighborhood, consider that any proprioceptively dynamic activity will help sustain your cognitive capacities, as well as physical mobility.
I used that word “proprioceptive” again.
Proprioception is the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium. Even if a person is blindfolded, he or she knows through proprioception if an arm is above the head or hanging by the side of the body. The sense of proprioception is disturbed in many neurological disorders. It can sometimes be improved through the use of sensory integration therapy, a type of specialized occupational therapy.
Forget The Trees
The aforementioned study, led by Drs. Ross Alloway, a research associate, and Tracy Alloway, an associate professor (both from “UNF”), is the first to show that proprioceptively dynamic activities, like climbing a tree, have dramatic working memory benefits, even if only done over a short period of time.
The UNF researchers recruited adults ages 18 to 59 and tested their working memory. Next, they undertook proprioceptively dynamic activities, which required proprioception and at least one other element, such as locomotion or route planning.
- Walking and crawling on a beam approximately three inches wide beam (crawling, are you kidding!),
- Moving while paying attention to posture,
- Running barefoot,
- Navigating over, under and around obstacles, and
- Lifting and carrying awkwardly weighted objects.
After two hours, participants were tested again, and researchers found that their working memory capacity had increased by 50%, a dramatic and nearly immediate improvement!
Constant Adaptation Is Required
The researchers tested two control groups:
- Group #1 was a college class learning new information in a lecture setting to see if learning new information improved working memory.
- Group #2 was a yoga class to see if static proprioceptive activities were cognitively beneficial.
Neither control group experienced working memory benefits.
The reason that neither control group improved working memory is because they did not require adaptation to environmental and terrain alterations that would require the individuals to apply their working memories to adapt appropriately.
The yoga control group did engage in proprioceptive activities that required awareness of body position, but these were relatively static given that the yoga postures were performed in a small space that did not allow for locomotion or navigation.
For working memory to be enhanced, the key is combining movement with thinking.
“This research suggests that by doing activities that make us think, we can exercise our brains as well as our bodies,” said research lead, Dr. Ross Alloway. “This research has wide-ranging implications for everyone from kids to adults. By taking a break to do activities that are unpredictable and require us to consciously adapt our movements, we can boost our working memory to perform better in the classroom and the boardroom.” (Source)
Freedom Is The Other Benefit
Working memory is a critical component to living youthfully, but so is being free in your body. There’s not much benefit to maintaining some autodidact capacity for a 100 years if you’re slumped over in a wheelchair, or so stiff you can barely squat.
Having mobility in your joints is being free in your body. There’s no better feeling than that. So, why not combine proprioceptively dynamic activities with those that work to enable the full range of motion in every joint?
If you don’t move much, by the time you’re 40 years old, the body begins to stiffen and the range of motion of the joints become compromised. The Stand/Sit Test demonstrates this like no other.
Almost all children can sit down with legs crossed and then stand up without the aide of hands or anything else. Referred to as the Stand/Sit Test, you’re relative capacity for achieving this can actually predict your mortality.
(Read my article, Three Easy Ways You Can Predict Your Lifespan In 10 Minutes)
By the time we’re teenagers, many of us have trouble performing the Stand/Sit test flawlessly, and certainly by the time we’re 40 and beyond, those that can still do it deserve a standing ovation.
You may not consider begin able to get up off the floor without the aide of knee, or hand to be of much value until you recognize what this capacity means. Being able to do this generally means that you’re free in your body; that some pretty important joints in your lower body are “open” and functioning as designed.
Think about it – the one thing that distinguishes someone aging well and someone aging poorly is their respective mobility, which is a function of their functional joint flexion.
Choose one or more proprioceptively dynamic activities, such as a few of those listed above, and combine them with exercises that will improve your mobility, such as yoga, or a few of these:
This is Part II of a six-part video-based workout series on getting functionally fit fast. Get strong, muscular, more flexible and improve your cardio with warm-up, core and glute exercises.
Do them regularly. I spend 10 minutes every morning doing my mobility routine before the events of life distract me.
The benefits of performing these movements regularly will last a lifetime, and yours will be longer and better.
Do what keeps you young!