We are not designed to sit. We are designed to move. I know. You’ve heard it all before – we’ve all heard it all before: “sitting is the new smoking.” The health messages about the importance of use-it-or-lose-it are often heard, if not well heeded. But while training to stay on track with aerobic fitness is just one aspect of the impact of movement in our lives, science has discovered the importance of diversity of movement and how that interacts with our brain. Critical to our ability to learn and adapt, proper movement and enrichment is essential at all stages of life. Movement with intention and purpose. Movement with imagination. Movement that tunes you in. And works you out. Movement that loosens and lightens from the inside out.
From newborn to older age and beyond, movement gets to the core of who we are, creating and strengthening brain connections and creating the optimal conditions for neural plasticity: the ability of the brain to change. Body movement and learning ability interact and work together. Patterns of movement from our earliest days begin to establish an understanding of the world and our relationship within it that the brain builds on for ordering and understanding higher concepts. Our body’s vestibular system, used to control our balance and spatial awareness, gives us the ability to move within a physical space and put words and letters on a page. As small infants, walking or crawling in particular patterns enhanced our brain’s ability to work with symbols and strengthened our visual capacities.
Exercise benefits the brain even before it benefits the body. The brain does not store its own fuel, nor does it produce its own fuel. The brain relies on the body to get its needed fuel—oxygen and glucose—to the brain. The healthier and more physically fit the body is, the more efficiently the brain functions. This is because exercise changes the brain at a molecular level by
The brain is a complex structure. More parts of the brain “light up,” or are used, when a person is moving or physically active.
- growing new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis;
- producing BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), nicknamed the fertilizer for the brain;
- strengthening secondary dendritic branching that increases memory retrieval; and
- improving mood by balancing the neurotransmitters endorphins, dopamine, cortisol, and serotonin.