Alison Weinlaeder helps people stay sharp for a living. A speech and language pathologist with Allina Health, she works with those who have had strokes, brain injuries, or are starting to show symptoms of dementia, to improve their speech, memory, and cognitive strength.
While on a pandemic-related furlough from her job during the spring of 2020, she launched her own brainchild. Cardiomelon is a digital platform that combines physical and cognitive exercises in a holistic, engaging approach to building strength and resilience in both mind and body.
“People were always asking me what website or app they should use to keep their brains strong,” says Weinlaeder. “But just sitting and clicking doesn’t produce the same effect as getting the body moving. I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun if we could combine exercise with brain activity?”
She looked around to see what was out there, but came up empty. “There are plenty of online fitness options for younger people, but not many for people who aren’t necessarily looking for a beach body,” she notes. And nothing that combined physical exercises with brain games and cognitive challenges. So she set out to combine the two in Cardiomelon.
Weinlaeder tapped local trainers with experience working with older clients, including Jim “JT” Thomas, a former pro football player and wrestler, who’s in his 70s himself and trains people of all ages at his St. Paul gym. The trainers design 20- to 30-minute sets of exercises across a range of difficulty levels, then Weinlaeder integrates brain games and exercises into each video. A participant may be asked to do simple arithmetic problems (e.g., what’s 8 + 23?) while doing modified jumping jacks, or name words that start with “M” while doing knee lifts.
Studies have found that combining physical and mental exercise yields better cognitive gains than either one alone. “When your heart is pumping, your brain gets oxygen and nutrients, so doing brain exercises while moving can help you capitalize on that blood flow,” explains Weinlaeder. “It makes your brain work at a totally different level.”
As the pandemic continues to present challenges to our usual fitness routines, Cardiomelon offers a welcome opportunity to nurture our physical and mental wellbeing at home. Weinlaeder notes, “If ever there was a time to give people a resource to keep their body and brain strong, now’s the time.”
Cardiomelon memberships start at $10 per month, more at cardiomelon.com