If you’ve gotten a chance to skim over our noteworthy reads page, you might have noticed our nod to Spark, which is a book that discusses some pretty remarkable findings in the area of exercise and the brain. Apparently, when we exercise aerobically (i.e., do cardio), the brain produces empty neurons — read, brain cells! Nerves! — that have absolutely no assigned function, looking for something to do. What does this mean?
(How are you not exploding out of your shoes with excitement at this?? I can barely even think of what to say next with the implications of this!!)
The best time for us to learn something, anything, be it history or motor function, is right after a cardio workout.
So . . . after my cardio training every other day (usually a thirty-minute bout of intervals), I go home and practice piano.
I used to hate doing my finger exercises on the piano when I was seven. I still sort of hate it, but I do it anyway. Not because it means I can play “Für Elise” or because I can do my arpeggios more triumphantly, but because now it’s a question of my fine motor movement and getting it better, faster.
I went to a couple sessions with a neuropsychologist down in Champaign who advised me to play the piano, not for aesthetic reasons — not even because it’s one of my goals to one day play the piano again — but because the sound feedback from striking the keys is more neurologically stimulating than, say, tapping your fingers on the table the way your OTs ask you to do at home. I think of it as similar to the technique they give you to try and regain tactile information (I suffer also from severe sensory deficits in my left hand), to bombard your brain with as many different modes of information at the same time as possible. So, while stroking something soft or coarse, they encourage you to do the same with your unaffected hand while watching, so your brain sees and feels what it’s supposed to be feeling. Similarly, if you “pound” on the piano, you’re getting sounds back into your head which in theory should help.
If you ever used to play the piano (I did for fourteen years in my childhood), go old-school and try your old rote exercises. At the moment my finger strength is still a bit lacking so I’m only able to play scales. However, after a few months of doing a one-octave C-scale back and forth ten to fifteen times post-cardio, I do see significant improvement in the ease of movement and finger control.
Be sure to also do finger extension a few times (I do five) between each repetition, since fingers can get a bit curly. 😉
I’ve recently added doing my last scale of the day with both hands at the same time. Very confusing, but getting better nonetheless. I also suspect it stimulates the brain more so than just the left by itself.
Good luck and happy piano pounding!
To our healing,