Strokes of Insight: Brain Series EP 4: Movement & Play

Leyth Hampshire

How Movement & Play Evolve The Brain 🤸🏽I remember waking up out of the coma, barely being able to feel the right side of my body. It was scary. We are so used to feeling, moving and being able to do basic things such as walking. When I woke up, the numbness that enveloped my body was startling. Especially when doctors said the feeling and movement may never return. I spent 3 months in physical rehabilitation, learning to be able to walk properly again. It was fascinating to learn that brain damage caused issues with my movement. It's all connected after all. The Neural-synapses in our brain control our every moment. Cognitive Neurons firing allow us to move so freely.

Something we do daily, that requires no thought.

As I sit and type this newsletter, my fingers are firing away without any thought. The brain controls all of this. The days passed in quick succession, and I was soon met by a physio whose job it was to try and help me regain the movement on the right side of my body. At this point, I had managed to get a lot of feeling back in my right arm. This was because I needed to use it a lot more, so the brain quickly relearned what it needed to. I've spoken more about the first days and weeks of recovery in my blog around the starting ironman training.

Over the space of 6-months, I regained near to 100% movement in my body. I was not only moving, but I was also running, swimming, cycling and as mentioned, training for an Ironman. Pretty incredible seeing as not that long before I could barely move out of bed.

Anyways, let us dive into the science behind movement and the brain, including how play can improve our cognitive functions.

The Knowledge

I'm exploring the power of movement and how it affects the brain. Movement supplies brain cells with oxygen which promotes the production of new brain cells, and aids in creating new synapses.

Research shows that exercise stimulates the production of brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which energize and elevate mood (Chaouloff, 1989). The brain can reorganize itself by forming new neuron connections ("neuroplasticity"). The link between physical exercise and neurobiological development helps to explain the link between larger brain sizes and cognitive function during human evolution (Raichlen & Polk, 2013).

Science shows us that movement can increase our cognitive function, so the value of moving your body is not only for physical benefits but as shown, for neurological benefits as well. We all feel that bit better once we've got up and done some form of exercise, even if it's only light work. The chemicals it releases, the general feeling of FEELING great.

A study by Berkeley University in California found dramatic increases in the brain cortex of decision making, emotional well-being and internal motivation from those who actively moved more frequently. If you are interested there is a great book by Kelly McGonigal, PhD called "The Joy of Movement" where she studied this in a lot of depth, the science is there.

In companionship with movement is play.

"Grow up!" The number of times we may hear this when acting silly or playing up are countless. However what if I was to tell you that play has been scientifically proven to expand the brain in so many ways. Play is a primal activity for all human beings. It is preconscious and preverbal, arising out of ancient biological structures that existed before human consciousness or the ability to speak. Play is considered a biological drive that, while not as strong as the desire for food, sleep, or sex, is nonetheless present in all mammals, including humans (Brown & Vaughan, 2010; Libby, 2014). Play increases the thickness and size of the cerebral cortex...

There are so many different types of Play. Whether that is physical in regards to outdoor games, mental in regards to creating something, or both. Also, it's important you know the play I mean here, it is away from screens.

There is a great podcast by HULT Business School where they explored how executive organisations are using play to support innovation in businesses and the workplace. Studies have shown the extent to which playing with Lego can stimulate creative ideas and provided evidence of how this can improve the bottom line of business. So next time your manager asks what activities you want to do, tell them to whip out some Lego and get the team being creative - the results could be profound.

The Practise

Let's get down to it. Let's get you moving and playing more, not only because of the absolute joy and freedom that comes with it but also because of the added neurological and psychological benefits.

Give yourself permission to be playful and move like a beginner. This may include taking up a new hobby such as yoga, martial arts, painting or making toy models. Try not to worry about being silly, irresponsible or childlike. Instead, focus on the fun and the joy you feel during the process.

Be active. One of the quickest ways to jump-start this is to do something light. Move, take a walk or throw a ball. Arrange time at the beach or in a park to throw a Frisbee, fly a kite, or play with a child or pet.

Visit a magic shop and learn some tricks, or host a game night with friends. Both can be very experimental and explorative.

Most importantly try not to worry about whether you are "good" at the creative endeavour. Just enjoy the experience.

Play & Movement are universal phenomena applicable to all mammals. It is vital to human development and well- being. Both are equally important for children and adults. The impact of play on the brain and overall health has encouraged many people to be happier and live a more creative life.

I ask you to go out today, move and be playful. Your neurological and physiological health will thank you!

'Til next time, where I start to explore energetic healing and breathwork.

Thank you for reading! If you got this email forwarded to you, click here and sign up to the newsletter so you don't miss the next one.

Ciao for now,Leyth

*Disclaimer: I am not medically certified, I am just obsessively intrigued by human optimization.*

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