If you think of baby animals playing what images spring to mind? The mighty male lion, powerful and fierce, exercising forbearance as a tiny cub boxes and bites his way toward a cuff round the head. Young foals flying across a landscape at full speed, suddenly springing sideways bucking and leaping.
A kitten prowling your living room, creeping round your sofa before pouncing fully onto your slippers, bolting away as the yowl erupts from your lips.
Animals play and we are no exception and as we bound, creep, sprint, dive and hurtle through our younger years we exercise, we develop and through it all, we learn! Muscles are toned and strengthened, reflexes quicken (reflex system), balance builds (vestibular system), self awareness of our bodies and their positions increase (proprioceptive system), our sense of touch develops (tactile system) (have you ever watched a two year old “gently” pat the family dog, wondering what brain damage may be occurring to Rex), hearing improves (auditory system), eyesight becomes keener (visual system) and concentration and attention spans increase to name a few of the fundamental systems that are exercised. And while we were beating the family dog senseless, yelling in his ears, balancing on his back, 100 billion neurons (how many? well if you gave each one a 1 on a word doc and spaced them all out together it would reach the moon, and back…twice!) are proving why I robot may take a little while to become a reality.
So these systems get exercised and develop. We use them all the time, in the seemingly simple act of reading and writing; sitting upright = core muscles, vestibular and proprioceptive, holding a pencil = tactile and proprioceptive, holding static posture in chair = vestibular and proprioceptive. This is just some of the work going on. Blimey how do we do it all and get anything else done? Its actually a good question, well when all of these systems are working to an adequate level we don’t need to think about it, they are autonomic. However if the systems are not working as well as they might that is when difficulties sometimes arise causing challenges to later development.
So can we do anything? Physical play and exercise are great; they can work all these systems as well as being fun. Games that work the body, co-ordination, balance and also involve more than one system at a time, such as balancing along a log and throwing stones into a circle at the same time are great.
Specific exercises do exist, these follow the early stages of development such as a baby rolling from its front to its back, and the exercises are done in a specific way allowing for neural development to take place not just physical ability.
It’s a big topic and this is just an introduction, at Nature Seychelles we are very excited about exploring this through our green health project, combining it with yoga, other fitness programmes, diet and the benefits of being immersed in Nature. To start with we will be doing a session with children and adults together, get in touch if you are interested or have any further questions.