Move it – or – Lose it

The Brain needs Movement

The Brain needs Movement

Your whole body and its physiology are designed around movement. In fact, even the most basic organisms have a system of detection “a nervous system” and system of locomotion. These are there to either take them toward nutrients and a sustaining environment or away from predators and threats.

While all your trillions of cells make you a highly complex multicellur organism your whole body, its organs and their workings (physiology) are essentially doing the same thing: Keeping your nervous system alive, so it can move you toward food and away from threats.

In a human embryo the first organ we can see developing is the Neural Tube, even before the heart starts beating! This is the early nervous system and will control and regulate every function in your body. Wow! As the embryo grows into a foetus and then us, the nervous system continues to grow and develop. The main nerve circuits like breathing, control of heart beat and reflexes are “pre-wired”. The other pathways contain trillions of “unprogrammed” potential and tentative connections. These connections are either “embedded” and “expanded” or are “pruned”, depending on whether they are stimulated or not. This stimulation comes primarily from … wait for it …. movement, interaction with and in the environment. So it’s really this movement and stimulation that creates and re-creates the wiring and connections within your brain and spinal cord (nervous system).

Hopefully now you can appreciate how crucial movement is for the development of a competent nervous system, especially during early childhood. But it goes further than that. Learning new movement patterns help us to make new nerve connections and has been shown to improve cognition and memory in the elderly. (Learning a new language also helps but skills that require learning new movements seem to be particularly beneficial)

Likewise practising and repeating a movement helps to keep both old and new nerve pathways intact. The more you practice the more “hardwired” the circuitry becomes. When I was a kid I played a lot of tennis and other racket sports. Those movement patterns are quite ingrained and I’m confident that when I pick up a racket again I’ll be able to hit the ball but I’m also quite sure my direction and accuracy will be way off. But with practice and repetition I will be able to improve … by firing up those old pathways (and probably some of my old bad habits). I also know that if I don’t play or practice, my shots, movement and anticipation will all decrease again. It is just like aerobic fitness “Use it – or – lose it!”

We now know that the nervous system tells our body how and when to move, but it turns out that when we flip it on its head, our brain and spinal cord actually need the stimulation of movement, to tell it at what level to operate. In and around all your joints you have lots of little sensors that detect things like movement, tension and pressure. These sensors (proprioceptors) send signals to your brain to tell it where each body part is in space. These signals are very important for balance and control of limbs. When these sensors stop sending signals to your brain, like when you sit down for more than about 20-40 minutes, the brain slows (down-regulates) your metabolism and decreases alertness.

Ever sat at your desk and looked down at your watch and thought, “I’ve been sitting here for 2 hours and have only a typed handful of lines?” Your sitting, or rather your lack of movement, has decreased your mental alertness. The opposite can be seen if you watch someone on an important phone call, they can be seen pacing up and down, literally “on their toes” ready, engaged and highly adaptable.

In short:

  • Movement is crucial for developing and maintaining a healthy nervous system.
  • Movement improves and maintains nerve pathways that can help mental function and memory.
  • Lack of movement changes the way your brain and body function (in a bad way).

Take Home:

Get moving and keep moving thoroughout your day. Break up your sitting hours by standing up every 20-30 minutes then move your limbs and spine. (Chat to me about our Posture Up programme)

 “Movement both function and expression of life”  Dr Timothy Wood

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