I watched the movie Patch Adams last night. The part where Robin Williams, as Patch Adams, gets the kids laughing by using a reflex hammer is priceless. That lead me to thinking more about reflexes, and how amazing the human body is.
We are all born with reflexes whether it’s the kick reaction when our knee is tapped with a mallet or the blinking of the eyes when a ball is coming at our head. Most of the wiring for this is located in our spinal cord, but some is in the motor centres of our brain. Reflexes mostly protect us from injury, but they do play a role in more complicated movements like walking, standing or riding a bike. Reflexes are part of the complex system of nerves and muscles keeping us stable enough to complete these actions.
When it comes to a dangerous situation, like falling, the reflex centre in the spinal cord sends a signal to our hands and arms to reach out. Almost at the same time (milliseconds later), the motor centres in the brain will contribute to the process by adjusting for the actual circumstances so that we avoid a situation like spilling the hot coffee on the dog.
Reflexes are something that we can improve upon. It’s true, some people are born with faster reflexes than others but through practice we can either speed up our reaction time, or in the case of aging, we can slow its loss. By repeating the same movements we can make them almost automatic. I’m not suggesting that you practice falling down, but keep your body moving in as many directions as you possibly can.
Here are some ideas for you:
- Play catch either with a friend or the wall. Start with something that you can easily catch and then move on to something smaller and lighter. The ultimate goal would be a ping pong ball.
- Put on your favourite music and dance!
- Step into the shower with the opposite foot that you usually use.
- Stand on one foot when you’re brushing your teeth.
Always look for ways to change up your routine. The smallest adjustment to movements will keep many more of your nerve fibres firing, and that will help to ensure they’re ready to work when you need them too. Healthy nerves and strong muscles are the perfect combination for keeping you moving in the direction that you want to move in.
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