Just as our bodies benefit from movement and exercise, so do our brains!
Exercise is not only beneficial for our bodies to be fit and our hearts to be healthy, but for our brains to function more efficiently as well.
Exercise has significant effects on the brain in helping it be ready to think and to learn.
Studies have shown that exercise improves memory and concentration. These are two areas where many of our struggling children and students face significant challenges. Encourage students to get some form or exercise before sitting down in class (walk to school, get up and dance as they get ready, etc.). Exercise actually helps them focus. Allow, and encourage, children to move while they are learning to help them focus – even something as simple as sitting on a wiggle seat or using a stress ball can be helpful.
For one of my students, it was recommended by the psychologist who administered the psycho-educational assessment that after a new lesson, the student take a ten to fifteen minute break to do something physical (shoot hoops, skip rope, run around the park). This was suggested so the student’s ability to take in and process the new information would increase. It was also expected to improve their ability to concentrate and attend to the work they needed to complete. As we participate in activities that increases our heart rate, blood flow to the brain increases which means the brain is receiving more oxygen – a very good thing for the brain! Other beneficial effects of exercise include the release of hormones which are helpful in the growth and development of new and healthy brain cells.
According to a Harvard Health Publication from April 9, 2014;
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
This is especially true of the children who are experiencing challenges with a learning disability or mental health issues. Participation in more regular physical activity – especially exercise which increases heart rate and activates the sweat glands – can help children deal with stress, sleep better and be less affected by emotional issues. This in turn improves their ability to focus on, retain and use new information.
As an NILD Educational therapist, I incorporate as much movement as possible in our sessions to stimulate the executive functioning (or thinking) skills in the brain. This aids in processing and retention. In particular we use movements that cross the midline. Crossing the midline (movement where the student crosses from one side of the body to the other) creates and strengthens connections between
the two hemispheres of the brain. As parents and educators we want to help our children to have the best chance to be successful. This can be especially difficult when they struggle with learning challenges or issues such as ADD. One thing we can do for them is to help them live a more active lifestyle.
Exercise is key for brain functioning, health, and growth. According to Kristin Barbour (CCC-SLP; NILD Executive Director U.S.), “Exercise grows new neurons.” Other studies (also referred to in the Harvard Publication) indicate that the more we exercise, the greater the benefit to our brains! So let’s give our brains and our children’s brains a boost by getting up and moving!
For more great ideas about movement, check out NILD’s Annual Conference, April 21 – 22, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario.