How Movement Boosts Learning


Motion helps our brains to be more alert. When muscle fibers are activated, blood circulation increases. The brain receives more oxygen and neuroplastic messengers are released that support nerve cell growth and synaptic switching. Students’ brains are more alert, and they are emotionally more engaged – conditions which have a positive impact on school performance.

Thinking and learning do not just happen in the head. From the moment of birth until an advanced age, the body is an integral part of well-being and of all intellectual processes.

Move your body and your mind will follow. As humans we have special sensory organs located in the inner ear and in the muscles, tendons, and joints. As “eyes” inside our bodies, they register muscle activities and stimulate our cerebral activities. But the positive effects of those sensory organs can only be revealed if they are regularly stimulated by motion. Just as eyes need daylight and noses need fresh air, the sense of balance, along with muscle and movement sensors, needs regular posture changes and movement. Keeping our sensory organs engaged keeps us aware and alert.

Fidgeting Is Good For The Brain

Children in particular, whose physical and mental development processes are not yet complete, require more regular movement stimuli than adults. That’s how we can also explain the everyday image of a student tipping their chair back to balance it on two legs – their unconscious is ordering them to move in order to prevent emotional, mental, and physical disorganization. Elementary school-age children can, on average, not sit still for longer than one minute. Young people and adults should not maintain a body posture for longer than 15 to 20 minutes.

Thinking and learning do not just happen in the head. From the moment of birth until an advanced age, the body is an integral part of well-being and of all intellectual processes. This also includes many intuitive activities that most of us are not even aware of in our daily lives and that emerge rather incidentally. Researchers refer to these as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). They include all musculature activities that are not consciously organized and include everyday physical activities such as moving a chair back and forth, intuitive changes of position when standing or working on the floor, moving one’s hands while talking, and even nervous foot-tapping.

Encourage Postural Changes

The furniture design of the learning space plays an essential role because it greatly influences individual physiological learning behavior and social interactions. Furniture creates opportunities for healthy and needs-appropriate behaviors by opening up possibilities for movement.

Recent scientific findings make it clear that room furnishings based only on chairs and tables lead to serious pressures on our physical and mental health. When viewed as a whole, these recent results are so significant that they are being captioned by magazines and journals as “sitting is the new smoking” without seeming too exaggerated. When you analyze the studies, the main culprit is passive sitting. The energy expenditure in sedentary behavior is so low that health risks have increased for multiple pathologies such as obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia, and even cancer.

People are sitting their way through life. Children often sit up to ten hours per day, and also have poor posture while they sit. This behavior, ingrained from childhood, is a pattern we need to break.


In this context, the issue of ergonomics also becomes more important – but size adjustment should not be the only focal point. Ergonomic design should be based on two factors. The physical needs of students. And the nature of the lesson plans.

Students and teachers not only have different body heights, but also different working styles and psycho-motor needs. What serves the classroom best is a healthy variety of mobile and multiple-use furniture. Having these options available influences the working behavior (standing, sitting, laying on floor mats) as well as how the work is organized (individual, group, or project work).

Here Is A Healthy Recommendation For The School Day:

  • 50% sitting (dynamic sitting on agile chairs)
  • 30% standing
  • 20% movement within the space

Consider How Important Movement Is For All Ages. People Aged:

  •   6-10 should not sit more than 5 minutes at a time.
  • 11-15 should not sit more than 10 minutes at a time.
  • 16+ should not sit more than 20 minutes at a time.

Design To Support The Rhythm Of Learning

Teaching and learning shouldn’t be limited to traditional classrooms. Designers are encouraged to explore the variety of functions that can take place in a learning space. A multiple-use room allows for diverse learning situations, and also provides more behavioral and activity options using different types of furniture.

The aim is to design students’ daily work and living spaces to be more behavior-appropriate and therefore more movement-friendly. Based on the philosophy that “learning places are everywhere,” all areas inside and out can and should be used to expand the learning space.

Through agile and mobile furniture such as stools, soft seating, and mats, the adjacent hallway or corridor can also be used as a working space. Furniture elements such as standing tables, seating that encircles support columns, nooks with tables or even seats and standing elements attached to the wall, support students in their quest to work independently and help them learn on their own terms.

A rigid seating configuration hinders physical and mental movement, while the flexible use of space and school furniture opens up the possibilities for different types of learning and behavior patterns.

The entire school’s architecture should be designed so that students are inspired to change their positions, locations, and forms of work multiple times. Doing so supports the rhythm of learning.

The plan should include spaces for recreation, retreat and recovery, and be designed to accommodate individuals, groups, and partner work. It should also allow for mixed age or class learning and, of course, include spaces for teachers and staff.

Forward-Thinking Schools

The front-of-the-class teaching technique has its place, but group work, independent learning, and project lessons play increasingly important roles. A diverse room design with a broad variety of needs-appropriate furniture gives teachers the flexibility to craft their lesson plans to match the

diversity of their students and individual learning styles.

We know that students retain information best when they can process it themselves – and even better when multiple senses are engaged.

Here Are Five Keys To Creating A Movement-Friendly School And Classroom Culture:

  • Make furniture and space decisions based on current findings on humane workplace design and ergonomic best practices.
  • Create spaces for agile configurations.
  • Use the entire school for normal daily tasks and activities, pushing beyond classrooms to corners and niches, corridors, and outside areas.
  • Implement student-centered learning concepts such as group work, self-organized learning, and process work.
  • Create spaces that answer the needs of normal school day rhythms – in a sense accommodating the yin and yang, between excitement and relaxation, hard work and recovery.
Dr. Dieter BreitheckerDr. Dieter Breithecker is a Health and Kinetics Scientist and is the President of the Federal Institute on the Development of Posture and Movement in Germany. As an international expert he has presented all over Europe, Asia, Indonesia, North and South America, Australia, and Arabia. Dr. Breithecker has published several leading articles and booklets, video productions and lectures, most recently on the subject of “Ergonomics for Human Learning/Work Stations.”VS AmericaVS America, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of educational furniture for K-12 schools, colleges, and libraries. Focused on best practices for educational facilities worldwide, VS develops adaptable, ergonomic, and sustainable furniture solutions which allow for the creation of agile learning environments. For more information, please visit

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