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  • Eileen McDargh

Your Brain: Move It Or Lose It!


Two people exercising in the park

I often hear myself saying, “If I don’t exercise in the morning, my brain doesn’t work.” Until I read this chapter on Thinking and Movement from The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain, I had no idea how correct that statement is.


Acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul distills so much information about the correlation between movement and cognition. She cites the difference between radiologists who remain seated while looking at images versus those who are moving (assume a slow treadmill) while looking at images. The seated radiologists spotted 89% irregularities vs 99% accuracy with the walkers.

Think about this. Humans were not made to remain seated, glued to some screen or tablet. But over the decades, we’ve been taught that being chair bound is desirable. Kids must not fidget and need to “stay on their place”. Not so.

In fact, the opposite holds true, Children with ADHD had better cognitive performance when they moved. Even doodling while listening to a lecture helped people remember 29% more than the non-doodlers.

My lesson—recess is vital for kids and adults! And the best results for adults come from moderate-intensity exercise for a moderate length of time. (Think I’ll slow down my 5.5 mile run to a steady walking pace.)

The results are powerful: focused attention, less distraction, problem solving enhanced and working memory increased.


Here’s the biggest lesson for me: information is better remembered when we are moving to learn it. I need to practice my presentations while walking. Descartes would have been more correct if he said, “I move, therefore I remember”.


There is so much richness in this chapter. One fascinating piece of research found that even putting motion to an idea resulted in better output. Take the expression “on one hand… on the other hand…” A control group held out one hand as they brainstormed ideas. The other group kept switching hands with each idea. The latter generated some 50% more ideas.


Next week, I’ll tie movement, memory and gesture into how my 7th graders learned prepositions.


Until then… get up and move.

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