Lifestyle: Can Stretching Make You Smarter?
We’ve all probably heard about how unhealthy it is to do too much sitting, and how office workers are at risk for so many health issues because they sit at a desk in the same position for hours upon hours. We know about the science of ergonomics and how important having an ergonomically correct chair and desk set-up can be. But did you know that ergonomics alone cannot fix the problems created by sitting at a desk all day?
Only movement and stretching can do that. And only movement and stretching can help you do your job more efficiently or learn new material better.
Sitting at a desk or in a seat in a classroom is a relatively new thing for us humans. People can learn and do their jobs while sitting, of course, but if you think about the human body and how it was designed (for walking, sleeping, running, squatting, etc), it is clear that we weren’t meant to just sit around all day.
Knowing that moving around is healthy for our bodies is one thing, but can stretching and movement actually help to make you smarter?
The answer, by all accounts we’ve seen, is YES! Clinical research and anatomical knowledge show that movement increases circulation and heart rate, which does increase brain function and performance. Stretching also actually gets cerebrospinal fluid flowing to crucial areas of the brain and body. When you stretch, more oxygen goes to key brain areas and you allow your eyes to relax a moment, which prevents eye strain. Sitting in a chair creates tension in your body (which diverts brain function to the tension spots), and stretching alleviates that tension and allows us to narrow our attention to our work or learning.
When you are working or learning something new, it is really important to give your brain a break. Moving around the room, stretching, etc, provides that break. When you learn something new, the brain puts the information in a temporary storage space (the hippocampus) and then, over time, processes it and stores it more permanently. The temporary storage space has a limited capacity and trying to cram more in, past that capacity, just results in lost information. If you want to retain information over the long-haul, you have to stop periodically to give your brain time to move the information from the hippocampus into the long-term storage in your cortex. Taking breaks to move and stretch gives your brain this necessary processing time, and movement actually helps you store the information for the long-term more effectively!
So next time you think, I don’t have time to stretch, remember that if you really do want to learn more or get more work done, you don’t have time not to!
Sources: http://www.nemours.org/content/dam/nemours/www/filebox/service/preventive/nhps/pep/braininmind.pdf http://hotbodycoolmind.blogspot.com/2009/03/stretching-for-your-brain-how.html