Why Movement is an Essential Nutrient
Why Movement is Key: Movement, Proprioception, and the Cerebellum
Most people, when asked, know inherently that exercise is vital to leading a healthy life. This blog post aims to outline, using the current scientific literature, why it is important that we get our children moving, and get them to continue to move into adulthood.
Booth et al.  have written a comprehensive paper that was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which is essentially a review of the benefits of lifestyle in relation to exercising/moving well. Booth et al. suggest that exercise is a genetic requirement for humans to express health and prevent illness. The following is a summary of the documented benefits of incorporating exercise into our lifestyle that they cite in their paper.
- Prevent up to 91% of cases of obesity and Type 2 diabetes
- Prevent up to 50% of all cases of heart disease
- Reduce risk of stroke by 25-30%
- Prevent up to 50% of all stroke deaths
- Reduce congestive heart disease deaths by 63%
- Normalise blood pressure and reduce risk of developing high blood pressure
- Restore or maintain heart and blood vessel health
- Restore and maintain normal cholesterol triglyceride levels
- Reduce risk of breast cancer by up to 60%
- Reduce lung cancer, even in smokers, by 72%
- Prevent up to 50% of colon cancer
- Reduce risk of developing, and improve outcomes of those with, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis
- Prevent osteoporosis and increase new bone formation
- Increase strength, flexibility and balance
- Decrease gallbladder removal by 20% and decrease gallstones
- Improve digestion and decrease indigestion
- Improve bowel function
- Increase macrophage (immune system) activity and antioxidant levels
- Decrease all causes of mortality by 67% in the general population
- Decrease all causes of mortality by 50% in 61-81-year-olds
- Prevent up to 47% of cognitive impairment, prevent up to 62% of Alzheimer’s and 52% of dementia
- Improve physical function in older adults
- Decrease the chance of ever being in a nursing home
- Decrease the rate of aging
- Enhance learning by 12 times
- Increase dopamine and serotonin levels
- Decrease depression by 20%, including relapses
- Increased growth and healing hormones
- Decrease stress and body breakdown hormones
- Decrease body fat, obesity, and weight gain
Most of the benefits listed are based on a 30-minute brisk walk(!), and the research shows that the relationship is dose-responsive, meaning the more you do, the better. There is absolutely tonnes of peer-reviewed literature detailing the importance and health benefits of exercising regularly. You can read Booth et al.’s excellent paper, in full, here.
Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement [Mosby 1994]. In humans, it is provided by proprioceptors. Here’s a definition of what a proprioceptor is:
a sensory receptor which receives stimuli from within the body, especially one that responds to position and movement.
Now, it is important to understand the effects of exercise and proprioceptive stimulation on brain function, because it is key to realising the detrimental effects of movement deficiency (read: not moving/physical inactivity). This part of the blog might get a bit literature-heavy, but bear with it – there’ll be a summary at the end!
Seaman  writes: “Both Guyton and Nolte indicated that if afferent signals (signals coming in) are eliminated, the cerebrum would be incapable of functioning in a conscious manner and would actually approach a permanent state of coma… …Indeed it seems that many supraspinal (above the spine) centres depend on afferent input, including the cerebellum and cerebral cortex. Carpenter states that afferent fibre input to the cerebellum exceeds efferent (signals going out) fibres by a ratio of 40:1, which demonstrates the degree to which afferent input is needed by the Central Nervous System.”
In summary: Proprioceptive input (such as that from movement) is essential for the CNS to function properly.
“So What About The Cerebellum?”
The cerebellum is a region of the brain located at the base of the skull. It is primarily thought to play an important role in motor control, although it has other important functions, too.
“Today, we recognise that this subsection of the brain (the cerebellum), long known for its role in posture, coordination, balance, and movement, may be our brain’s sleeping giant.” – Jensen, E., 2000. Brain-Based Learning: The new science of teaching and training.
Children, Cerebellum, Cognition and Cat Leaps:
“What the developing brain needs for successful movement and cognitive growth is sufficient activation of the motor-cerebellar-vestibular system (read: movement). Without it, problems in learning can arise, which include attentional deficits, reading problems, emotional dis-regulation, weak memory skills, slow reflexes, lack of impulse control, and impaired or delayed writing skills…
“…In fact, one of the most powerful aspects of play (movement) is its ability to unite the developing areas of the brain [van Hoorn et al. 1993]. It helps orchestrate the intricate tuning of emotions, social skills, cognition, and motor development.” – Jensen, E. Learning with the body in mind. 2000. Brain-Based Learning: The new science of teaching and training.
“Peter Strick, PhD. (1995) established another important link; his staff traced a pathway from the cerebellum back to parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, and spatial perception. Amazingly, the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning.” – Jensen, E., 2000. Brain-Based Learning: The new science of teaching and training.
“Sensory stimulation has, in fact, been compared to a nutrient. There is a dependence on sensory stimulation for normal brain development.” – Restak, R.M. 1979. The Brain: The last frontier
Summary: The cerebellum runs the brain and proprioception runs the cerebellum.
When most of a child’s day is spent sitting (being immobile) at a classroom workstation that has been designed with little or no regard for the musculoskeletal development of that child, getting them moving is absolutely essential to counteract the effects of this postural trauma [Cornell University Computers in Schools 1998 14 [3-4].
“90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine. This would be analogous to a windmill generating electricity.”
– Dr. Roger Sperry (Nobel Prize Winning Neurologist).
For all the above reasons, this is part of why Train Hard Parkour are so passionate about getting young ones moving well at our ‘Tiny Traceurs‘ sessions, keeping them moving through their childhood, and encouraging them to continue their movement practice well into their adult years, so that they can stay healthy.
It makes more sense to grow healthy children than to fix unhealthy adults.
Parkour has always been about being and lasting; about longevity, and we aim to give people the tools in order that they can be and last in their movement practice. It is encouraging to see that other groups around the United Kingdom are also committing to delivering Parkour sessions to those that exercise can especially help with, such as ParkourDance delivering sessions to pensioners and other companies delivering Parkour workshops to those with mental health issues. We hope that this blog post has been informative, and we hope to move with you soon!
– TRAIN HARD PARKOUR –
About the author: Scott graduated from the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic in 2015.
Booth, F.W., Chakravarthy, M.V., and Spagenburg, E.E. 2002. Exercise and gene expression: physiological regulation of the human genome through physical activity. Journal of Physiology 543.2 pp. 399-411.
Chestnut, J., 2005. Innate Physical Fitness & Spinal Hygiene. The Wellness Practice – Global Self Health Corp.
Cornell University Computers in Schools 1998 14 [3-4]. Available: http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/Pub/HFPresentations/JHBWSlides.pdf
Cotman, C., Berchtold, N.C., and Christie, L., 2007. Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. TRENDS in Neuroscience 30(9).
Jensen, E., 2000. Brain-Based Learning: The new science of teaching and training.
Kramer, A. and Erikson, K., 2007. Capitalizing on cortical plasticity: influence of physical activity on cognition and brain function. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences 11(8).
Mosby’s Medical, Nursing, & Allied Health Dictionary. 1994. 4th Ed.
Ploughman, M., 2008. Exercise is brain food: The effects of physical activity on cognitive function. Developmental Neurorehabilitation 11(3): 236-240.
Restak, R.M., 1979. The Brain: The last frontier. Doubleday and Company, Inc. New York.
Seaman, D.R. 1998. Dysafferentation: a novel term to describe the neuropathophysiological effects of joint complex dysfunction. A look at likely mechanisms of symptom generation. JMPT. 21(4).
Strick, P., 1995. Veteran Affairs Medical Centre of Syracuse, New York.