People exercise for a variety of reasons. Some do it to lose weight, prevent disease or just to feel better. Most people to not consider that exercise, and movement in general, is key in brain development, cognition, function and learning. Todd Hargrove, a physical therapist, sees this connection every day in his practice.
In the modern world we tend to value “higher” mental functions like reasoning and language over “lower” functions like motor control and body awareness. And therefore kids spend less time in recess, adults spend more time in office chairs looking at computers, and our mental lives become more virtual and abstract as opposed to concrete and embodied. So it is good to remember that our capacity to think and feel is supported in large part by the neural hardware and software that creates our ability to move and perceive. By developing one we develop the other. It’s all connected.
Exercise and movement is shown to benefit the brain before it ever benefits the body, providing oxygen and glucose needed to grow new brain cells, increasing dendritic branching needed for memory storage and recall and balancing neurotransmitters and chemicals needed for proper and enhanced function. Many neuroscientific studies have shown that learning and development are directly correlated to movement.
The brain and body’s movement and learning systems are interdependent and interactive. For example, motor development provides the framework that the brain uses for sequencing the patterns needed for academic concepts. The body’s vestibular system controls balance and spatial awareness and facilitates a student’s ability to place words and letters on a page.
Movement skills are great for working adults who are looking to reduce their stress, balance their mood, improve their mental performance, ability to adapt, plan and organize–and for older adults who are looking to improve their memory, improve their social skills and behavior and stave off brain related diseases.
So if you want to help your head, get off your butt! John Ratey MD recommends a balance between aerobic activity and skilled activity. Aerobic activities include walking, swimming, jogging and sports like soccer. Skilled activities include rock climbing, yoga, tai chi, karate, pilates, dancing and fencing.