"You can crawl in many ways. You can crawl on your hands and knees. You can also prop up on your toes and just hover, one or two inches above the ground, which is really going to pull in those core muscles and work those muscles effectively," said Johnson, a physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.
"Then, as you start to move, you're working on your shoulder girdle, you're working on your hips," she said. "If I could give one exercise to almost everybody, this would be it."
Crawling has been used as a physical therapy tool, Johnson said, and now it has been adopted for strengthening and fitness.
The idea of turning crawling like a baby into exercise has been championed by the training system Original Strength, which repurposes fundamental movements into a fitness regimen.
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According to Original Strength, when you crawl, you're "pressing reset" on your central nervous system and revisiting the mobility patterns you learned as a baby.
Patterns such as crawling not only require motor skills, they involve the vestibular system, a sensory system associated with balance and spatial orientation, said Justin Klein, a chiropractor and CEO of Got Your Back Total Health in Washington, who has incorporated crawling into his practice.
"It's like resetting the central loop in the nervous system to bring all of the parts involved in coordination, movement and reflexive stability into synchronization," Klein said.
"You have to really work to be able to breathe, keep your head up and crawl at the same time, all while keeping your pattern," he said. "That's the kind of thing where, if you are being really mindful within your crawl, it is harder than it looks."
"If you think of crawling or balancing, you have to plan where you're putting your feet. You have to plan where you're putting your hands so you don't lose your balance. It's this idea of us being aware, proprioceptively aware, but also being dynamic in that awareness. We have dynamic movement involved," said Tracy Packiam Alloway, a psychologist at the University of North Florida who conducted the study with her husband, Ross Alloway.
Another group in the study participated in a yoga class, and the third group sat in a two-hour classroom-style lecture in which they learned new information. Before and after the groups participated in these tasks, they completed a working memory test.
After comparing the test scores, the researchers discovered that the adults in the exercise group had improved working memory scores compared with those in the classroom and yoga groups.
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"It was only that combination of being proprioceptively dynamic that led to that improvement in working memory," Alloway said. "What we found was that it was only this kind of physically moving, this movement activity, that was improving working memory up to 50%. We were actually very surprised about it."
Overall, any such dynamic movement that you can do at home is beneficial for your health, said Simpson, the physician at Stony Brook.
"I'm a big fan of anything that gets people exercising more, and easy-to-do exercises that you can do at home without specialized equipment certainly tend to do that more than other types of exercise," he said.