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An Agile Body Makes an Agile Brain

Time to switch up your workout: agility workouts can boost your mental abilities, says new research.

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by Sarah Mahoney

Well-Being
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The other day, I snagged my toe on a root while hiking and took a quick fall. As stumbles go, it was no big deal. I didn't tweak an ankle or even skin my palms. But it got me thinking about all the ways I wish I were lighter on my feet—emotionally, psychologically, and most of all, physically.

See also: To Get Fit, Tap Your Inner Badass

I’m not alone. A lot of my cohorts in their early 50s want to preserve their agility too. If you’re a fitness buff, you’ve probably noticed that it’s becoming a trend. Agility workouts and drills, once practiced by elite athletes who need to be able to turn on a dime on the court or field, are cropping up in gyms all over. Agility ladders are laid out on the floor, or classes have ordinary mortals sprinting around cones, hurdling small obstacles, or jumping on and off boxes.

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Advocates say the physical benefits of agility workouts—besides boosting your heart rate and increasing cardiovascular fitness—include stronger joints, ligaments and tendons, and improved coordination levels. Some intriguing research that compared the benefits in several military communities found that agility training exercises didn't just improve fitness; it also boosted people’s mental agility, including memory and vigilance. For people looking to make big changes in their life, increased mental agility can only be a good thing, right?

Guidelines about general physical activity are pretty clear, says Wojtek J. Chodzko-Zajko, Ph.D., head of the department of kinesiology and community health
at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “and we know people should get at least 150 minutes of activity per week and do weight training regularly. But specific recommendations for things like agility, balance and fall prevention training are much more difficult to make.”

See also: Time to Crank Up Your Workout

In other words, if you’re someone who struggles just to check off the basic fitness requirements each week, you shouldn’t feel guilty that agility skills aren’t high on your priority list. But if you are a regular exerciser looking to make changes in your routine that will add new skills, “There’s nothing wrong with building diverse fitness experiences like this,” Chodzko-Zajko tells Life Reimagined. “Once people are already active, introducing variety and new goals make people more motivated and excited, and that’s all positive.”

So if you want to feel a little more nimble, give it a try. The American Council on Exercise, which says it’s important to focus more on agility workouts as we age, offers six introductory exercises

Photo Credit: Alistair Baker/Getty