Brain Gym exercises are physical exercises that help children, and even some older adults, learn better. Exercise can boost brain function and cognitive performance, and Brain Gym is a system for capitalizing on that.
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The Development of Brain Gym
There are 26 Brain Gym exercises, according to the company's website. They're meant to mimic movements humans do in their early years of childhood development. That's a period when children learn how to control their eyes, ears, hands and body.
The founder of Brain Gym, Dr. Paul E. Dennison, was originally a public school reading specialist. He began testing techniques that incorporated movement to help his students learn better, states the Brain Gym website.
Dr. Dennison teamed up with his wife, Gail, to create a program called Educational Kinesiology in the 1980s. This program formed the basis of what is now known as Brain Gym, which was a program based around movement to help kids learn. Even then it had the same 26 core moves that Brain Gym has today.
Today, these 26 exercises aren't just used with children in classrooms — they are also used by corporations and sports teams and in elder facilities. The program is not based on the kind of exercises you'd find in a gym. Instead, it focuses to work on specific things like stability and hand-eye coordination.
These activities are meant to decrease stress and promote learning. They involve the senses to create a rich experience for the user and raise total-body awareness. This added awareness helps users become more curious and better able to learn, according to Brain Gym.
Read more: How Does Exercise Improve Work Productivity?
Brain Gym Exercises Help Children
Since this program isn't as intense as weight training or running, you can do it more often. The website suggests that you do the exercises every day. You can perform them during breaks or before work, study or sports.
A March 2019 study published in the Indonesian Journal of Science Education has found that the Brain Gym exercises, when paired with something called i-Think Maps, were better than conventional education. Students who were learning physics were asked to try either the Brain Gym approach or a traditional approach. Researchers concluded that Brain Gym, which is designed to optimize brain function, can indeed enhance thinking skills while creating a relaxed and fun environment.
An article from the University of Maine, Farmington, studied the effects of Brain Gym on prekindergarten learning. The scientists expressed concern that students were entering kindergarten without being fully prepared, suggesting that a lack of physical activity is to blame. They found that having the children practice Brain Gym exercises helped them better identify letters in the alphabet.
Brain Gym for Older Populations
While the effects of Brain Gym exercises have been shown in children, other populations may also see results from the program. For example, a research paper published in the International Journal for Advanced Research and Development in April 2019 has found that young adults who used Brain Gym exercises had improvements in their attention span. This shows that children are not the only ones who can benefit from these activities.
A small October 2015 study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity tested Brain Gym training on the cognitive ability of older adults. This time, researchers compared Brain Gym exercises to water- and land-based workouts.
The results from Brain Gym were comparable to more traditional exercise routines, both on land and in the water. Neither program was very useful for improving cognitive ability, but fitness level improved in both cases. As the researchers note, these activities may enhance overall fitness to a similar extent as a more traditional exercise program. However, the study was quite small, so further investigation is needed to confirm its findings.
Exercises for the Classroom
If you're looking for ways to get kids moving in the classroom to give their minds a little break, you can make up your own brain gym exercises or use techniques other teachers have used.
Move 1: Deep Breathing
Edutopia suggests this exercise as a way to decrease classroom anxiety.
- Have kids scrunch their toes and cross their ankles.
- Reach the arms forward with palms pressed together.
- Bring the hands to the chest.
- Take five deep breaths, holding that pose for about 30 seconds.
- Uncurl the toes, relax the arms and uncross the legs while taking another five breaths.
Move 2: Cross Crawling
The Michigan Brain Gym Consortium recommends cross crawling to activate both hemispheres of the brain.
- Have kids start on the ground on all fours.
- Crawl forward, moving opposite limbs together.
- The left arm and right leg both step forward and vice versa.
- Go as far forward; then crawl in reverse and repeat.
Move 3: Figure of Eight
This exercise is a brain warm-up from World Supporter, which you can use before class starts. It uses the left and right hand to activate different parts of the brain.
- Have everyone stand up.
- They should use the index finger of their left hand to draw a sideways figure eight in the air.
- Then they should use their right hand to do the same thing.
- After that, have the kids use both hands to draw figures of eight.
- Journal of Aging and Physical Activity: "Efficacy of Brain Gym Training on the Cognitive Performance and Fitness Level of Active Older Adults: A Preliminary Study"
- University of Maine, Farmington: "The Effects of Brain Gym Exercises on Letter Identification"
- Indonesian Journal of Science Education: "The Effects of Brain-Based Teaching With I-Think Maps and Brain Gym Approach Towards Physics Understanding"
- Brain Gym: "About"
- Brain Gym: "The Activities"
- International Journal for Advanced Research and Development: "Effect of Brain Gym Exercises on the Attention Span in Young Adults"
- Edutopia: "Quick Classroom Exercises to Combat Stress"
- Michigan Brain Gym Consortium: "Ask Susan"
- World Supporter: "Brain Gym"
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