By Melissa LaPointe —
Movement is vital to life. Yes, there are the more obvious health benefits of exercise – combating obesity, heart disease and diabetes; building strength, balance, and flexibility; improved breathing, and increased circulation that aids digestion and keeps the organs healthy. But there’s so much more. When we move using large muscle groups in a rhythmical, repetitive way, our body releases serotonin and dopamine in the brain (important mood-regulating chemicals and help with attention, learning, and a sense of calmness) and releases endorphins (happy chemicals that induce a sense of well- being).
Melissa Lapointe and son Max on the left with Patricia Weber and daughter Nalina on the right. Photo credit: Jana Roller.
Studies have also shown that repetitive movement increases alpha waves in the brain, and the alpha state is associated with enhanced intuition. Moving your body rhythmically and repetitively helps you tap into your intuition, and more of your mind becomes available to you—the mind in your legs, in your heart, and in your body.
Physical activity and movement are proven as some of the most effective ways we have of directly improving our brain performance. They are vital to every other brain function, including memory, emotions, creativity, and learning. Our higher order, more complex brain functions have evolved from movement and are still very much dependent on it.
Biologist Carla Hannaford reports, “Self-initiated movement, exploration, interaction, and physical experience for joy and the challenge of it, facilitate neurogenesis (nerve growth) for a lifetime.”
This is something we have known intuitively for centuries; we now have scientific research to back it up. Yes, dancing with joy in a group of people literally builds new brain cells.
What exactly happens? Beginning in the womb, rhythmic and reflexive movements are playing a key role in the hard-wiring of nerve cell networks that actually become the core of learning. As an infant and young child, movement helps calm the nervous system while we develop vision, hearing, balance, touch, and proprioception. The motor systems also develop for proper head control, muscle tone, stamina, strength, and posture. These basic sensory-motor skills have been called the “foundations for all future learning,” and are at the very core of how children develop intellectually, emotionally, socially, and, of course, physically. This is how children learn to communicate, express feelings, heal trauma, make friends, and learn to live in the world.
Yet, with all this knowledge and research on the incredible power and value of movement, it is still disregarded by society. Our children are still not moving enough, they are not moving in ways their brains crave, and we are seeing epidemic rates of neurological dysfunction in young children. In North America, we have some of the highest rates of learning disabilities in the world. Other scary statistics that are emerging include 1/88 children now being diagnosed with autism, 1/6 with sensory processing challenges, and 1/10 children being on ADHD medications.
We’re seeing all-time high rates of anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome in kids. Whatever label we want to use, the message is clear —our children are stressed and many of these problems begin during our early childhood sensory-motor development.
Movement matters and our children are stuck. Our babies are stuck on their backs and stuck in equipment. They are stuck through unresolved birth trauma, through lack of physical contact with their parents, through lack of opportunity to explore at their own pace. Our children are stuck indoors, stuck in front of televisions and video games, in an over-paced, over-scheduled, and frenetic world.
We need to move. It is within all of us, as living beings, to stretch, run, breathe, and play. It matters during pregnancy, in how we tap into our intuition while we birth our children, in how we hold our babies. It matters in how we raise our young families, in how we grow as individuals. As a society, how we support our moving bodies ultimately shapes our entire culture—for developing minds, for growing hearts, for future generations of change. We need to embrace and understand the joy of movement, to help our children thrive. Movement matters, to all of us.
Melissa LaPointe is a licensed Occupational Therapist, educator, speaker, and advocate with over 17 years experience in the field of child development. She combines her ongoing training in mind-body science, integrative health, movement therapy, pelvic floor health, and pediatrics to help revolutionize a new standard of care for mothers and children from conception through the early years of life. Melissa can be reached at 250.302.1856 or Melissa.firstname.lastname@example.org.