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Our Movement and Brain Development

walk for brain healthEverything we do requires using many muscles; think of every movement you have to make to get out of bed in the morning and brush your teeth. The coordination of those muscles to perform complex actions comes from activity in our highly-evolved and unusually large brains. Movements that can bolsters our endurance and promote brain growth. Here’s more about the brain/movement correlation from Dr. Sharad Paul, author of The Genetics of Health: Understand Your Genes for Better Health.


More and more, science points out that movement is not only essential, but it also actually makes our brains smarter in a kind of evolutionary feedback mechanism. In 2004, the evolutionary biologists Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard and Dennis M. Bramble of the University of Utah published an article in the influential journal Nature, in which they hypothesized that our bipedal ancestors survived by becoming endurance athletes—by being able to chase and drag down prey. Most other fast animals like cheetahs can run very fast in short bursts, but cannot run for a long time. They are sprinters, not endurance runners.

The phrase “jogging your memory” may indeed be more literal than we imagine.

However, when humans became upright, everything about our bodies evolved to make us walk and run, two legged, over great distances. When compared to other primates, humans developed longer legs, shorter toes, less hair, and convoluted inner-ear mechanisms to maintain balance and keep us stable when we stand or run upright.

With this increase in movement, something else was happening, almost miraculously—our brains were becoming larger. The human brain is proportionally three times as big when compared to other animals’ body size. In the beginning, people felt it was just because of increased movement. But increasingly, it appears endurance is also equally important. Dogs and rats, for example, are good endurance runners also, and these creatures also have larger-than-average brain sizes in proportion to their body sizes. Lieberman’s team specifically decided to test the importance of endurance. They compared mice that were trained at endurance running with standard mice, and they found that, after a few generations, the mice that had undergone these fitness workouts had activated new genes and had innately high levels of substances that promote tissue growth and health, especially a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is in humans too, and it not only makes your endurance better, but it also drives brain growth. The phrase “jogging your memory” may indeed be more literal than we imagine.

Building your endurance will even help you beat procrastination.


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