How Movement Supports a Healthy Brain

“We have a brain for one reason and one reason only, that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements” – Daniel Wolpert, neuroscientist and TED talk presenter

People often ask why my workouts look so weird, and that’s on the off chance that they recognize what I do as a “workout”.  Much of what I coach and teach doesn’t look like traditional exercise, but regardless of what movement/exercise I coach, there remains a common thread to all which is the phrase “move mindfully”. 

This que is given to remind people that simply going through the movements or mirroring a coach is not sufficient when learning to move properly.  It’s important to realize the brain automatically runs on the most efficient autopilot, or the path of least resistance, but this autopilot is often one of compensation.

For example, when you twist your ankle and hobble around, I think we can all agree that this is not the best way to move on a daily basis, but due to limitations at the time it becomes the most efficient way to move. This same process takes place when have shoulder, knee, back, or hip pain although the change in movement isn’t as drastic so it mostly goes unnoticed. 

These compensations are made worse by repetitive trauma like sitting all day at a desk, working a labor intensive jobs, or having little activity in our lives. Simply being able to walk from point A to point B does not equate to good movement.  In the majority of cases it just means your brain has performed several mini miracles to keep you moving despite the deficiencies in thoracic spine or hip mobility, bad breathing patterns, and/or poor stability systems.

So where am I going with this?  Brain health. 

You see, proper movement can only occur in the presence of healthy brain pathways which allows for good communication between our body and brain which sometimes takes a lot of “brain effort” to get certain muscles to contract on command. Without the ability to call on these muscles, such as the gluts during squats or lunges, we limit our movement options.  When we limit our ability to move well and move often in a variety of different ways, we essentially shuttle all of our movement down a one lane highway. 

When you only have the one lane of traffic, what happens when there is a crash?  Or in this case, if you have limited mobility options, what happens when you have an injury? A long, frustrating road to recovery is the obvious, yet least scary, answer to that question.  Even more unnerving is the brain pathways that used to be traveled by the proper movement patterns we developed as children erode preventing our ability access them.  Or in more straight forward terms, our brain physically shrinks and loses its capacity to support movement. 

As more of these pathways (like those responsible for reaching over head, balancing on one leg, being upside down, tumbling, etc.) begin to erode, we drastically advance the aging process due to our inability to move.  When our brains, whose sole purpose is to support “adaptable and complex movement”, begin to become less efficient in movement, they also lose other capacities to support vital processes to healthy aging.  Yes, becoming a poor mover will result in sleep, concentration, and mood alterations.  Studies discussed in Dr. John Ratey's book "Spark", also suggest lack of movement will increase your susceptibility to cognitive degenerative diseases such as Dementia.

Now for the good news!  Movement is like miracle grow for the brain, physically increasing the size and functional capacity of both the mental and physical expressions your brain is responsible for. This is why each workout at some point will have me in different positions ranging from being on the floor to hanging.  I’m not so worried about isolated exercises to strengthen pecs, biceps, and glutes, but more focused on expressing a variety of movement variations to grow both a strong body and a strong mind!  The more movement, or brain candy, you can feed the brain on a daily basis, the healthy it will remain as you age and the more efficient it will operate.  If you find yourself unable to enjoy freedom of movement, it may be time to get an assessment to learn what deficient areas you need to work on.  Ignorance is no bliss in the movement arena.

Move well + Move often = healthy happy brain.

For more information on Chiropractic treatment, education on Body Maintenance techniques, or online coaching for sustainable exercise programs visit or call the office 931-321-1414 to schedule your FREE consultation with Dr. Dunaway.