Photo: Külli Reinup
Physical movement with moderate effort is according to the present knowledge the only activity, as a result of which damaged brain cells may be healed*. Moreover, while increasing physical resilience, a human being is able to grow new brain cells. Mental activity, including learning, reading, and discussion is of utmost importance in the creation of strong links between the brain cells and in the development of the mind; however, mental activity cannot repair elements of the damaged brain. The ability of the human being to repair damaged brain cells and create new ones is expressed only on one condition – physical movement.
How many of us, adult educators, make our students exercise and spread the message of physical movement? Taking into account the overwhelming potential of physical exercising, there is not too much of it at any schooling event whatever the handled theme may be.
In the workshop of the educators’ unconference in 2018 called “How to support adult learners’ physical activity during training?” we personally tried out to make the learner change the forced position after every 60 minutes. We tried out four sets of exercises, each comprising one exercise for the upper part of the body, the second one for the lower part of the body and between them repetitive exercise for retaining the flexibility of the spine. See 4x2 exercises performed at the conference here (7 min).
More sceptical participants in the workshop asked whether it was not enough at the training to plan lectures intermittently with group work, in which people move around in the room. I think that it is not enough because it lacks positive emotions. When you do exercises during training, you see how stretching and bending makes people smile and you can see in the participants’ eyes that they are again ready to perform mental work. In addition, non-sitting is not the same as moderate physical effort and taking into account the latest scientific results mentioned above, standing and moving around in the room do not improve the health of the human brain.
Exercising inside school rooms has two big limitations: there is not enough space and the participants are in different health conditions and differ from the aspect of physical abilities. Due to that, it is a good idea to provide exercises performed with smaller or bigger effort while standing or sitting.
At the unconference, I suggested the idea of using a gymnastic rubber band. The person doing the exercises needs only space for standing and within the arm's length and with the length of the band the person can regulate the tension applied. The best feature of the compact band is its existence. Together with paper and pen, it can easily be accommodated in your bag. When a trainer gives a rubber band together with the training materials, the message delivered is clear and is several times more intensive than only speaking about it: whatever you do during the day, move as much as possible.
*Staudinger, U. M. (2017). Staying Smart While Growing Older How do cognitive abilities develop at adult ages? In Vaupel, J. W. & Edel, A. (Eds.) (2017). Green Book Ageing Society. How “new ageing” will change our lives. Population Europe Discussion Paper Series, 6, 13–17.
Tiina Tambaum is the scientist of the Demographic Centre of Tallinn University and the lecture of educational gerontology in the Institute of Educational Science. Tiina’s area of research includes the development of senior citizens, involvement of elderly men, research of themes concerning learning and collaboration between different generations, educator and the promoter of development (see www.65b.ee (link is external)).