How Movement Affects What You Remember And How You Feel

There’s so much amazing research being done on the brain and its function right now that not a day goes by without some new study shedding light on something we have empirically experienced but whose function we couldn’t quite understand. 

Our brain has evolved to help us survive our passage in the world. To do that it has to be able to accurately remember unpleasant experiences and dangerous situations we have encountered and survived so that we can engage in behavior that allows us to avoid them altogether in future or mitigate their impact. 

Everything we experience has an emotional foundation but none quite so powerful as dangerous and unpleasant experiences. The part of the brain that processes emotions is called the amygdala. When we encounter a particularly unpleasant or dangerous situation we’ve experienced before the amygdala is activated and this recalls memories stored in other parts of the brain which alert us to the imminent danger or unpleasantness. 

In a large-scale study of 1,418 participants researchers discovered that in addition to the amygdala that becomes activated in situations where our wellbeing or survival are at stake the cerebellum, the part of the brain that is responsible for the regulation of movement, was also activated. The researchers suggest that the activation of the cerebellum during the storage of strong positive or negative emotions shows that the encoding of emotions in the brain makes use of a much larger network of connections than previously thought. 

It is no surprise, of course, that something we love and excites us or something we hate or fear are encoded so strongly in the brain. After all, we have come to better understand Bruce Lee’s insistence on “emotional content” in our actions. The deeper implication of the findings however is that movement, simple exercise, dance, anything that allows our body to feel joy and our mind to relax may also play a crucial role towards helping the brain ‘heal’ from the impact of negative emotions and traumatic experiences. 

Our environment is key to how we perceive ourselves and what we choose to do in order to meet the perceived expectations of others. Some of that perception can be [mis]guided because of past, unresolved trauma and the accumulation of stored negative experiences. Being able to resolve some of it through movement provides us with the means to guide our behavior along more intentional pathways that will provide better outcomes for our actions. 

For a deeper dive into the systems that run us under the hood check out: Intentional – How to Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully