We are evolutionarily programmed to learn on the move – (Leonard et al, 1997)
Imaging studies have shown that when we exercise there is increased blood flow to the dentate gyrus which is a part of the hippocampus deeply involved in memory formation (Green et al, 2004).
Imaging studies have shown that exercise stimulates the brain’s most powerful growth factor, BDNF, which is responsible for creating new brain cells and encouraging neurons to connect with one another, both essential parts of learning (Vaynman et al, 2006).
There is a strong body of evidence that shows a strong relationship between motor and cognitive processes. There are direct links between the cerebellum and the basal ganglia (two parts of the brain that process motor activities) and the parts of the brain that process language and memory i.e. cerebellum activation triggers activation in these other parts of the brain (Middleton & Strick, 1994).
The vestibular (inner ear) is activated by any movement that stimulates inner-ear motion such as swinging, rolling, jumping or riding a horse. Activation of the vestibular causes activation of the reticular activating system which is critical to our attentional system and learning (Wolfe, 2005).
Oxygen is essential for brain function, and enhanced blood flow increases the amount of oxygen transported to the brain. Physical activity is a reliable way to increase blood flow, and hence oxygen, to the brain (Medina, 2008)
Simply standing increases heart rate and this blood flow by up to 10% in just seconds (Krock & Hartung, 1992).
68% of high school students in the US do not participate in a daily physical education program (Grunbaum, 2002).
Numerous studies show that increased exercise leads to better academic performance and increased learning in general (Summerford, 2001).
Children with dyslexia were helped by a movement program i.e. when they were allowed to move their reading scores increased (Reynolds et al, 2003).
Children with autism show reduced activation in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. This could explain why many children with ASD exhibit symptoms such as irritability, problems with delayed gratification, anxiety and tantrums.
Children with autism and sensory over-responsivity have stronger brain responses in the areas of the brain that process sensory information as well as the amygdala than children with just autism. Both groups of children showed an initial similar brain response but those children with sensory over-sensitivity took much longer to get used to the stimuli. It is suggested that those children with autism that do not have sensory over-responsivity may be compensating through strong brain connectivity between their pre-frontal cortex and amygdala.
Recent research coming out of The University of Loughborough shows that not only are children starting school less physically ready than ever before, but that teachers are noticing this change and its impact in the classroom.
Sensory over-responsitivity is now considered to be a core feature of autism (Ben-Sassoon et al, 2009). Children with autism are five times more likely to have sensory over-responsitivity than members of the general public (Green & Ben-Sasson, 2010).
Sensory processing difficulties are a unique predictor of communication competence and maladaptive behaviors (Lane et al, 2010).
Sensory stimulation (such as a loud noise or scratch sweater) causes hyperactivation in the primary sensory cortex (responsible for initially processing sensory information) and amygdala of children with autism. What’s more autistic brains do not ‘get used’ to the sensory information over time – their responses remain elevated (Owen et al, 2013).
Simply replacing fluorescent lights with softer and colored lighting, playing soothing music and using butterfly wraps that provide calming deep pressure dramatically decreased anxiety and negative behaviors among children with autism (Stein et al, 2013).
Deep pressure is therapeutically beneficial for children with an autism spectrum disorder (Grandin, 1992; Edelson et al, 1999).
People who live in areas with more green space have lower levels of cortisol (Ward et al, 2012).
Having plants in your home is linked to lower levels of cortisol (Ward et al, 2012)
ADHD symptoms greatly reduced when in the presence of nature or doing activities in nature (Kuo & Taylor, 2004).
Walking through nature evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher concentration and positive emotions (Aspinall et al 2013)
A strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of seratonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety.Seratonin is also thought to play a role in learning (Jenks & Matthews, 2010).
Positive interactions between humans and non-human mammals (such as dogs, cats or horses) can lead to an increase in oxytocin and a corresponding decrease in cortisol (Odendaal, 2000; Barker et al, 2005; Handlin et al,2011). Especially true in children with autism whose cortisol levels upon waking are reduced by up to 60% in the presence of a dog (Viau et al, 2010).
Children who participated in a 12 week riding program had significantly lower stress hormone levels than a waitlist control (Pendry, 2014).
Equine Assisted therapy leads to greater functionality in children with autism, especially in regards to their expressive language and social skills (Bass et al, 2009; Gabriel’s et al, 2012).
The presence of a dog leads to increased attention, social interaction and language. This is a direct result of activation of the oxytocin system (Beetz & UvnA, 2012).
In the first ever large-scale randomized controlled trial therapeutic horseback riding was found to be of benefit to children with an ASD (Gabriels et al, 2015)
The horse’s rhythmic stride may have a calming effect with its vestibular-cerebellar stimulation which studies show can lead to an improvement in hyperactivity (Arnold et al, 1985).