Neuroscience and Neuromyths for teachers

Professor Paul Howard-Jones | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Myth B: Excercise and mental function

Educational kinesiology (or Edu-K, also often sold under the brand name of Brain Gym®) draws on ideas about perceptual-motor training, i.e. that learning problems arise from inefficient integration of visual, auditory and motor skills. This idea spawned several training programs to remediate learning difficulties through exercises but these were shown to be ineffective by numerous studies in the 70’s and 80’s . A major review of the theoretical foundations of Brain Gym® and the associated peer-reviewed research studies failed to support the contentions of its promoters . Despite this, many teachers remain enthusiastic about brain gym and convinced that it supports learning, with reports of increased reaction times following Brain Gym exercises suggestive of some positive effect on cognition .

If Brain Gym can contribute to learning, it may be for entirely different reasons than those used to promote it. There is an emerging body of multidisciplinary research showing the beneficial effect of aerobic exercise on selective aspects of brain function, and some of these aspects happen to be particularly important for education . For example, a study of adults revealed increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) after two 3 minute sprints. When compared to sedentary or moderate exercise conditions, participants showed a 20% increase in the speed of recall for words they learnt immediately following their intense exercise. BDNF plays an important role in synaptic plasticity – the making of connections between neurons – which is thought to underlie our ability to learn. Neuroscience is shedding light on how exercise and fitness can promote learning. But, it seems that aerobic exercise is what’s needed, rather than the rehearsal of motor-perception skills.