Movement to Increase Learning

By Sue Heron MCSP. Paediatric Physiotherapist. Head of training Children Inspired by Yoga.


Movement to Increase Learning – The Brain Gardener 

‘From the very start of life, engaging in physical activity contributes to our physical, social and emotional needs’ (Generation inactive 2 p7).  Shockingly, approximately 50% of children, and 80% of adolescents, do not achieve the 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO. 2010).

An occupational therapist called Jean Ayres, working in the 1950’s, suggested sensations were ‘food for the brain’. Increasingly, research links more movement with more learning. ‘A growing number of studies demonstrate that an active and fit lifestyle is beneficial for cognitive and brain health across the lifespan’ (Chaddock et al 2018).

If sensations are the food for the brain, then movement is the ‘gardener for the brain’: cultivating, growing and nurturing the brain for learning.


The Research Linking Movement with Increased Learning

A review, studying the effect of physically active lessons found they had a positive impact on educational outcomes, such as attention levels and academic achievement, as well as overall physical activity levels. Similarly, De Greeff et al (2017) found physical activity had a positive impact on executive functions such as attention and academic performance in preadolescent children. Neuroscientist US Dr Wendy Suzuki found a single physical workout could improve a student’s ability to focus on a task for up to two hours. (W. Susiki. 2017)

Mualem et al. (2018) studied the impact of 10 min of moderate activity (walking) on mathematical problem-solving skills of children aged 6-12 years. They found all the children benefited from the physical activity, especially those who struggled with school. Across all ages the researchers found the physical activity improved memory.

Recently research has explored the direct impact of movement on the brain. Chaddock-Heyman, (2018) found movement cultivated the nerve fibres in the brain structures which link the left and right sides of the brains. These structures carry sensory and cognitive information between the right and left sides of our brain, helping us to maintain our balance of attention, control our emotions and think!


The Future

As parents, teachers and policy makers empowering children to move, and to keep moving, is one of the best things we can do to help them learn


Active Kids Learn Better Chad Spoon   Active living Research 2015



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Ukactive Kids. 2018. Generation Inactive 2 Nothing About Us, without Us.

World Health Organisation. 2010 Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organisation.

Ayres. J, Robbins. J.  2005.  Sensory Integration and the Child: Understanding Hidden Sensory Challenges. Western Psychological Services

Chaddock-Heyman, L., et al. 2018. Physical activity increases white matter microstructure in children. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12,

De Greeff, Johannes W. et al. 2017. Effects of physical activity on executive functions, attention and academic performance in preadolescent children: a meta-analysis. J of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 21, Issue 5, 501 – 507. Gaaf sams.2017.09.595

Mualem, R., et al. 2018. The effect of movement on cognitive performance. Frontiers in Public Health, 6.

Wendy Susiki. 2017. TED talk

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