Cognitive Health for Health Coaches

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Healthy cognitive function is the single most underrated outcome from personal training and health coaching. If it continues to be overlooked, it could be drastic for billions. If thoroughly considered, it can help those billions stay much sharper for much longer.

What is Cognition?

Cognition relates to the mental processes that we use daily to interact, understand, experience, and sense the world. These mental processes include:

Cognition is a summary of all of these mental functions. When we look at healthy cognitive function, these specific functions are optimized. Functions that can be optimized include all of the above, and can both be optimized as individual “domains”, or improved as whole (similar to how muscles can be isolated or globally targeted).

Executive Function

Similar to cognition, executive function is an umbrella term referring to the control of different mental processes that facilitate the attainment of a goal. Including:

Your executive function can suffer if you don’t exercise, don’t move constantly throughout the day, have poor sleeping habits, eat a poor diet, and lack proper hydration.

So, saying “I have low executive function” typically means you aren’t optimizing these processes, ie: when you drink alcohol, you may experience poor memory and poor motor control.

Often times, poor executive function stems from:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of movement and activity
  • Poor diet and lifestyle habits

Our goal as health coaches would generally be to increase cognitive function and prevent cognitive decline.

As seen when we’re born, we slowly increase our physical capacity, flat line, and then eventually slowly decline until we die creating a curved line (see the chart below). With cognitive function, we start higher on the curve due to how plastic we are as children. The cognitive line tends to follow the physical curve after childhood.

This is referred to as cognitive trajectory. We want to slow cognitive decline as much as we want to slow physical decline. Ideally, we slow them together.

Now, what’s interesting is that the cost associated with cognitive decline (Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s etc.) are actually much greater than the costs associated with physical decline. 

They’re probably roughly five to six times more costly than orthopedic (injury, pain, falling, etc). With over 350,000 health and fitness professionals in the US alone, and the dramatically increasing rates of cognitive decline occurring every year, should there be a more direct way for professionals to intervene?

If you are having trouble seeing where health and fitness professionals can help, aside from simply keeping individuals active (which is the #1 most important priority as the benefits of any activity on the brain can be seen here) here is an example:

If we’re going to reduce fall risk for an older adult, should we just do ankle stability exercises? When do falls typically happen? The person can’t make a decision fast enough and can’t react fast enough so they fall. So we should treat those two things together. 

Similarly, the “functional cognitive requirements” for any individual’s life should be considered as we train individuals for physical function. It becomes as simple (in concept), as pairing physical exercise and cognitive exercise together.

The Cognitive Revolution

Do you work primarily with your body or with our brain? Most likely both, but primarily with your brain in today’s “cognitive age”. We’re no longer in the industrial revolution where we’re doing manual labor. Most of us rely heavily on our brain to make a living. We are now in the Cognitive Revolution.

So, if we could improve your focus and attention, that would be extremely valuable for you and your career.

The brain is plastic. It loves novelty, activity, complexity, sensory inputs. So when you think about things that are good for the body, they are typically good for the brain as well.