Storing new memories and learning new skills, whether mental or physical, means creating new connections (synapses) between the many cells (neurons) in our brain. The formation and constant remodelling of such connections is the essence of brain development.
Two key elements are required to form new neuronal connections – nutrition and stimulation. The importance of nutrition – food and oxygen – is generally well understood. Intellectual stimulation is also widely recognised as a vital element of learning and brain development.
But what about the stimulation coming from our body?
Our current understanding of the brain points to the fact that this very complex organ is extremely dependant on body stimulation for its growth. This is for example tragically demonstrated by babies in Romanian state-run orphanages before the 1990s, in which sensory deprivation caused significant brain growth deficits.
All senses stimulate the brain – the images we see, the sounds we hear, the touch we perceive, all account for millions of nerve impulses travelling to our brain every second. But out of all the sensory stimuli, the most important is arguably that related to movement and the balancing of our body against the constant pull of gravity. The special sense informing our brain about the relative position, movement and tension in every part of our body is referred to as proprioception. Proprioception relies on several types of specialised nerve receptors widely distributed in our tissues. It is thanks to these receptors and the signals they produce that the brain is able to finely coordinate our muscles to execute complex movements while maintaining our balance.
Every movement we make activates these dedicated receptors and stimulates our brain. By the same token, every moment we spend being still and passive, for example slouching on a couch to watch television, is an opportunity missed to use proprioception to stimulate our brain.
Since childhood is the most important period for brain development, it might be time to review our children’s screen exposure and send them outside with a ball, or enrol them in a local dance school!
Originally written by Nicolas Roost for LiveBeingFit (www.livebeingfit.com)