Climbing Trees Improves Cognitive Ability

A new study, coming out of the University of North Florida is showing that climbing trees and balancing on a beam can significantly improve cognitive abilities and skills. This study comes out of the Department of Psychology, and was led by Dr. Ross Alloway and Tracy Alloway. This new study not only was the first of its kind in a certain respect, but it also showed just how important exercise is to the body and mind for people of all ages, and it also shows the relationship between physical health and mental health.

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This new study was the first one to show that proprioceptively dynamic activities, which are things like climbing a tree or balancing on a balance beam, can improve working memory if done in a short period of time. We already know that exercise and similar activities help in a number of ways, but it has always been thought that you needed to do an activity for a long period of time to feel the benefits of it. Working memory is the active processing of information, and it is linked to performance in a wide variety of applications, such as in sports or in school grades. The study was published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, and suggested that working memory can be improved in just a few hours of participating in these types of physical exercises. There are many areas of life where improving working memory can become beneficial, and the best part is that proprioceptive activities can help improve working memory in such a short period of time.

The goal of this study was to see of the proprioceptive activities could enhance working memory if they were completed in a short period of time. You probably have never heard of proprioception, but this is when the position of the body and orientation is associated with the working memory. The researchers were also studying whether or not an acute and highly intensive period of exercise would then lead to working memory improvements. The researchers found participants for this study who were between 18 and 59 years of age, and the researchers tested their working memory. The researchers then told the participants to go through proprioceptively dynamic exercises and activities, which were all designed by the company Movnat. This required that there needed to be proprioception and another element, such as route planning or locomotion. The participants had to do things like climb trees, ,walk or crawl on a beam which was about 3 inches wide, moving while being attentive to posture, running barefoot, navigating around obstacles, and then carrying oddly weighted objected. After two hours, the participants were then tested again, and the researchers found out that the participants working memory capacity increased by 50 percent. 50 percent is a significant improvement in working memory, and the researchers were very impressed by the results. In order to make sure the results were valid, the researchers also had two test control groups, with the first being a college class that was learning new information in a lecture setting. The second group was a group of people in yoga class who were being tested to see of the proprioceptive activities were beneficial to cognition. Neither control group saw the benefits to working memory, and this helped validate the results of the study.

This study suggested that by doing activities that requires us to think, we are also exercising our body as well as our brains. This study does have major implications, both for younger people and older people, since it means that we need to exercise our brains in order to exercise our bodies. If people consciously do activities that require them to think about movements, then it can help keep the body limber, but it can also help keep the mind working properly. Our environments and terrain changes often, which means that people need to constantly be thinking about the next step using working memory to update information to adapt in the right direction. What is very interesting about this study is that there was such a huge improvement in working memory in such a short period of time. This means that even if someone has not practiced or engaged in proprioceptive activities regularly, someone can learn rather rapidly, and then can get the same benefits. For older adults, proprioceptive activities would be really useful because it can help ward off the effects of dementia and possibly help ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s. This is good for kids because if they begin practicing proprioceptive activities, then they will be able to use their brains in a new way, and can also learn about space and situational awareness.


If you have a child, this study is a perfect example of why you should get your child in an activity such as gymnastics or something that has proprioceptive activities as a foundation. For children, learning proprioceptive activities could be even more beneficial to improvement in working memory, and this could help them if they are slow learners or if they are having trouble with tasks. The researchers hope that parents could use proprioceptive techniques to help children overcome learning obstacles, such as it could be a tool that parents could use for children who are diagnosed with ADHD. Another way that this could be used is in high school if the student takes up a sport like football, because situational awareness and body awareness is important, and there is even route planning in sports like football. On the opposite side, older adults who are in a nursing home or other environment could participate in proprioceptive activities, because it could help them regain working memory, and it could also help improve their moods overall. When it comes to working out, proprioceptive activities could be the most beneficial type out there, and could even be considered a yoga type of mindfulness. More research needs to be done to determine what the real health benefits are concerning various medical conditions.


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Jeanne Rose
Jeanne Rose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been a freelance writer since 2010. She took Allied Health in vocational school where she earned her CNA/PCA, and worked in a hospital for 3 years. Jeanne enjoys writing about science, health, politics, business, and other topics as well.

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