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Stuck at home during COVID-19? Here are 5 exercises to build pathways in your brain without leaving the house‍.

Since the start of shelter-in-place, you may have increased your socially-distanced morning walks and evening strolls, but have you kept your mind sharp? With everything going on, I know I’ve had difficulty focusing, reading lengthy books, or completing crossword puzzles.

But during my rehabilitation from a severe traumatic brain injury, I learned ways to build neuropathways even when I’m too preoccupied for traditional brain exercises. The secret is crossing the midline. What do I mean by “crossing the midline”? Imagine your body is split down the middle—length-wise, the same way your brain is split into the left and right hemispheres. Crossing the midline means using the left and right sides of that invisible line in conjunction with one another.

“When we are babies, we learn to creep on all-fours, using a reciprocal (alternating arm/leg pattern). This carries over with us into adulthood and we see this during the gait cycle, where we also use a reciprocal pattern,” explains Theresa Marko, owner of Marko Physical Therapy who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedics.

Certified Health & Fitness Specialist and personal trainer John Ford of JKF Fitness and Health agrees, adding, “Crossing the midline does play into proprioception and motor neuron development. And studies in animals and humans have shown that exercise can improve brain health and function.”

As infants, we were crossing the midline to help our brains develop and form connections. This is why physical therapists instruct traumatic brain injury survivors like me to practice exercises that incorporate crossing the midline, because such exercises increase neuroplasticity and cognitive function. An article entitled “Thinking, Walking, Talking: Integratory Motor and Cognitive Brain Function” published in a 2016 issue of Front Public Health found “movement facilitates cognition throughout the life span.”

Interacting with outside stimuli or brain games aren't the only ways to improve brain health. Marko suggests the following five exercises—which are provided by Marko Physical Therapy—for reciprocal diagonals and rotations, explaining “these are all complex movements and I generally train people in that sequence: working on reciprocal first, diagonal, then rotational.” Think of these exercises as moving meditation during stressful or overwhelming times. The added bonus: you can do these exercises right in your bedroom with little to no equipment.

“All of these exercises encourage new neural motor pathways, which have positive effects on brain function,” Ford concludes.

1. Thoracic Rotation | Stabilized Four Point (ball is optional)


  • Go onto hands and knees.
  • Pull your buttock into the ball (if used).


  • Reach across body and behind opposite arm as far as you can.
  • Twist your trunk towards the opposite direction opening your chest. 
  • Your lower back and hips stay stable.

2. Four Point + Arm and Leg Raise


  • Start on hands and knees, hips and shoulders at 90°.


  • Lift one arm straight out in front.
  • At the same time, lift opposite leg straight back.

3. Lunge and Twist


  • Enter lunge stance.


  • Bring one arm up at 45°, one arm down at 45°.
  • Rotate torso towards front leg.
  • Repeat on opposite side.

4. Thoracic Rotation + Reach | Four Point


  • Go onto hands and knees.


  • Reach across body and behind opposite arm as far as you can. 
  • Allow shoulders to roll.
  • Now reach back and overhead, rolling shoulders the opposite direction.

5. Oblique Crunch


  • Lie on back, knees bent with feet flat on the floor. 
  • Place hands behind head.


  • Perform a crunch lifting your elbow to the opposite knee. 
  • Alternate sides.
Brooke Knisley
Brooke Knisley is a writer and traumatic brain injury survivor whose work about disability and traumatic brain injury has appeared in the Huffington Post, Bitch Media, Hippocampus Magazine, Playboy, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Pill Pack's 'Folks,' and VICE Health.