We all know about the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, fitness, and movement for adults, and we all make those New Year resolutions to hit the road or gym! Well, did you know that it is even more important to make movement and physical activity a priority in the early years as this is the most important time in our development?

Felicity Gillespie, Director of Kindred, said:

A child’s development at 22 months serves as a strong predictor of education outcomes at age 26. Most of the human brain is developed before we can even talk and in the first year of life, the brain literally doubles in size. The evidence of the massive impact our earliest relationships, environments and experiences has on our future development is incontrovertible.

Did you know?

Physical activity grows the brain through the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) release which stimulates the growth of new neurons. You are literally growing the brain through movement and physical activity.

A few ways to spur you on, to keep this resolution, as physical activity is really the foundation of brain functioning.

In the past, education has compartmentalised learning, at all levels, and all the neuroscientific research is giving us clearer evidence that everything is linked in the learning process.

The paper “Physical Activity and Cognition: Inseparable in the Classroom” by Anya Doherty and Anna Fores Miravalles from the Faculty of Education, University of Barcelona is worth reading.

We all know how active learning helps children improve their well-being, speech, language and communication skills, personal and social development, and their understanding of the world around them. But did you know how your actions and examples now, will have a long-term impact on your little ones in later life?

By helping them now to create a healthy lifestyle will help them make good choices later in life.

The immediate benefits of movement and activity

  1. You are helping them grow their brain through the BDNF release to stimulate the growth of new neurons
  2. You are building myelin on those connections of the brain each time you repeat a movement. Peek at “meeting myelin” from the August 2021 edition
  3. Exercise and movement can reduce the risk of developing major illness in later life
  4. Helps children to build stronger bones and muscles which improves their posture and balance (core)

Did you know movement literally grows the brain?

If you read “How Lifestyle Factors Affect Cognitive and Executive Function and the Ability to Learn in Children” it discusses lifestyle and its impact on cognitive and executive function. In their research on movement and physical activity, the researchers have seen that there are several changes in the volume of brain structure and that movement could enhance cognition and learning in children.

For example, a difference in the volume of the basal ganglia (responsible for motor control) and additionally increased volume in the hippocampus, the hub of the brain’s memory network, has also been related to aerobic fitness and movement. The article suggests that increased aerobic fitness could enhance cognitive development in children by changing the volume in regions of the brain that are involved in cognitive function.

Movement is also such a benefit in the learning process for children with additional learning needs and the paper “The effect of acute exercise on cognitive performance in children with and without ADHD” shows that exercise benefits all children.

Cognitive development: benefits of movement and activity

  1. Improved co-ordination
  2. Improved memory and focus
  3. The improved speed with which information is processed

On top of all that, movement and physical activity helps with well-being, vital for learning, by reducing stress and anxiety due to the release of mood-boosting endorphins, increases children’s confidence and self-esteem and gives them opportunities to express and process emotions. Working and playing together in a group increases feelings of connection and being needed and wanted.

A little something to think about…

The neuroselection hypothesis paper “Early life cognitive function and health behaviours in late childhood: testing the neuroselection hypothesis” from the BMJ, suggests that higher cognitive skills in early life (3-7) is associated with the avoidance of hazardous behaviours (smoking and alcohol) but also the avoidance of sport and exercise.

The article suggests that children with higher levels of cognition, particularly those with higher levels of verbal ability, need to be encouraged to participate in physical activity and movement to help them manage their health behaviours in the future.

In a nutshell movement and activity is good for everyone, no matter what age they are, in so many ways. So, what are you waiting for make this part of your resolution for 2022 and beyond?

Don’t worry about the weather or rain, wrap up well, and have lots of fun moving, whether indoors or outside, and actively grow brains.


About the author:

Gina’s background was originally ballet, but she has spent the last 27 years teaching movement and dance in mainstream, early years and SEND settings as well as dance schools.

Whilst teaching, Gina found the time to has create the ‘Hi-5’ dance programme to run alongside the Australian Children’s TV series and the Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy for Hit Entertainment. 

Her proudest achievement to date is her baby Littlemagictrain.  She created this specifically to help children learn through make-believe, music and movement.  One of the highlights has been seeing Littlemagictrain delivered by Butlin’s famous Redcoats with the gorgeous ‘Bonnie Bear’ on the Skyline stage.

Gina has qualifications of teaching movement and dance from the Royal Ballet School, Trinity College and Royal Academy of Dance.

Use the code ‘PARENTA’ for a 20% discount on Littlemagictrain downloads from ‘Special Editions’, ‘Speech and Language Activities’, ‘Games’ and ‘Certificates’.

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