Movement and the Brain: How Balance Can Keep You in Sync
Do you ever find your self feeling like your mind will not turn off? Are you stuck as if you are a hamster on a wheel, going around and around with thoughts and emotions? You get stuck in the unending rumination cycle of mostly negative thoughts. You are not alone! Both men and women, adults and children, all become entranced from time to time thinking about the what if's. For some individuals, this state of unending thoughts and emotions can dominate much of their day. Believe it or not, there is a solution to improve your ability to choose to get off the treadmill. And, the answer is not too complicated!
How is the brain involved in the cycle of ruminations? The following is a great article explaining in more detail about the brain and our ruminating thoughts:
Christopher Bergland states, "Rumination" is called rumination because the act of repetitive thinking is similar to the regurgitation of cud by "ruminant" animals such as goats, sheep, and cows. Depressive rumination is the compulsive focus of attention on thoughts that cause feelings of sadness, anxiety, distress, etc."
There are different modes (or networks) of the brain that involve various regions. The various modes are the Default Mode Network (DMN), the Salience Network, and the Executive Network (task positive network). All are involved, but we are going to focus on the Default Mode Network (DMN) in this article. Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D. in their new book, ADHD, 2.0, call the Default Mode Network the "demon". We want to all figure out a way to tell the "demon" to stop bugging us! The DMN is most activated when we are in a resting state while not on task or even doing much at all. Unfortunately for many adults and children, it is in that state that is the most challenging. For those who have ADHD, their DMN does not always sync proficiently with the task positive network or the Executive Network.
Another part of our brain that we will focus on is the cerebellum. In the last several years this so called "little brain" has gained quite a bit of attention. Until recently, many neuroscientists did not know how much the cerebellum directly effects the functions of the prefrontal cortex region. The cerebellum is located in the hindbrain near the brainstem. It is responsible for balance, coordination, movement, and posture. The prefrontal cortex is located in the frontal lobe of the brain controlling higher functioning skills (executive functioning), such as moderating social behaviors, performing higher cognitive tasks, making decisions, and the expression of personality. How are these two regions related?
The thalamus is the key. Simply put, the cerebellum uses the thalamus to relay messages or signals to the prefrontal cortex. Remember that the cerebellum is responsible for your balance and movement. If you give attention to improving your balance and movement, then you actually you are strengthening your ability to have higher cognitive functioning. This is a newer area of research that is gaining a lot of focus in the world of neuroscience.
Let 's go back to the discussion about runimations. When your brain goes into the default mode (resting state), you are not focusing on a task. It is during that state that the ruminating thoughts can feel like they are taking over. We have to literally turn on a switch to focus on a task or something else to curb the cycle of negative thoughts. The amazing new research is pointing out that if we improve our balance (strengthen the cerebellum), then our prefrontal cortex becomes stronger. Hence, allowing us to have more sustained focus and attention as well as more emotional regulation. In this article, Christopher Bergland explains in much more detail how the cerebellum and the DMN are related. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201703/cerebellum-stimulation-influences-frontal-cortex-functioning
What can we do then to improve our balance and movement? This article outlines easy-to-do balance exercises for adults and children. https://www.healthline.com/health/exercises-for-balance#exercise-for-seniors
During my therapy sessions with children, I am incorporating movement, such as doing simple exercises (jumping jacks for example), yoga and some of the balance exercises mentioned in the above article. It is clear how the attention given to movement and balance will lend to emotional regulation for my clients. I am encouraging parents to have children do at least 5-10 minutes of balance exercises, yoga, or stretching in the mornings and before going to bed. Parents are reporting that children seem to be more calm and focused after doing the exercises. More dopamine and oxytocin are emitted in the brain during exercise, directly helping us to focus and to feel happier. On a personal note, after I do about a 9 minute "bedtime yoga" routine, I indeed feel more relaxed and more at peace before falling asleep. For we all know that it is when we are trying to unwind from our days that the ruminations begin to ramp up.
It is empowering that with simple balance and movement exercises, I can actually improve my ability to focus, have sustained attention, and emotional regulation. By improving the connection of the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex, we are able to help our brains stop the treadmill of negative thoughts that occur mostly when the Default Mode Network is activated. Our brains become more in sync which lends to overall better day-to-day functioning.