Why should you walk on the neuromat®?
First, let’s review the impact that movement has on the brain.
“One of the most significant impacts of exercise on the brain is its influence in optimizing the readiness for the brain to process new information by being alert, focused, and motivated (Ratey, 2010). Exercise is one of the best ways to regulate the production and release of neurotransmitters—these are crucial chemicals for learning and memory. These wonderfully potent chemicals help regulate our responses to pain and pleasure, our emotional states, and our cognitive performances. They are what keep our emotional and physical processes in balance. Patrick T. Randolph. Faculty Language Specialist, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo
We know that all the areas of the brain are super interconnected. I like to think of it as “interwoven”. Put your palms together and interlock your fingers. Squeeze your hands and fingers together. I believe that’s much of how the brain works. Interconnected and interwoven. When we move our bodies, our brains are constantly sending and receiving messages. When we walk on the neuromat®, both sides of our brains are actively engaged due to the circular and straight patterns. The directions involved when walking on the mat include starting out by walking to the left, then turning to the right, in order to walk in a straight line, then turning to the left, then walking in a straight line, then turning to the right. Now, remember that each side of our bodies is controlled by the opposite sides of our brains. Think about how much brain input we are creating when we walk on the neuromat®! Believe me, not everyone is capable of easily maneuvering their bodies flawlessly the first time on the mat. However, the brain continues to receive those messages through the movement, even if prompting is needed. So, in other words, when we walk on the neuromat® we are increasing brain activity from one hemisphere to the other. And with consistent practice, improvement is imminent.
Think about all the brain cells that are exercising, moving, and communicating with other cells when one is simply walking on the mat. Whew! That alone really gets me motivated! The impact on our brains is endless! From proprioceptive input from out feet, to visually attending to the colorful circles, to balancing our bodies during each turn, to integrating our brains by layering developmental domains (i.e. walking, talking, singing, marching, crossing midline, tossing a ball, playing a musical instrument, etc). And, if we were to crawl on the mat? Crawling is one skill that I feel is very underrated! When a person crawls, it generates proprioceptive input on the wrist, hands, and fingers (excellent for fine motor skills), knees, shoulders, hips (don’t want to have hip problems later in life do you?). It also helps to develop eye muscles by looking down and then back up again. As you do this the eye muscles must work to converge and diverge. Eye muscles, I’m not talking about acuity, are very important during the early school years, and for that matter, throughout our lifetimes. Our eyes must be able to look up at the teacher, attend to what he/she is saying, look back down at their paper, without losing their place. When children are beginning to learn how to read, they must be able to hold a book 15-18 inches away from their face, move their eyes slowly from the left to the right without skipping letters or words, and then down to the next line beginning from the far left, all the way over to the far right, and then all over again. The reader's eyes must be able to maintain this eye movement for several minutes, if not long periods of time, without losing their place on the page. For some children, this is a rather difficult skill and can easily be misdiagnosed as a learning and/or reading disability. Especially when teachers don’t test eye coordination! (That’s an entirely different topic, but one I feel is important nonetheless).
What we do know is that repeated actions for a period of time create a new neural network. Practice really does make a difference! As we layer our skills (as described in the neuromat® activities) we increase brain function and we simply get better at the very thing that we are trying to improve. In addition, we incidentally improve on other skills that may or may not be the primary reason to walk on the neuromat®. I call that a WIN-WIN!
Pam Cavallo, M.S.Ed