How Body Movement Affects Physical and Cognitive Performance

How Body Movement Affects Physical and Cognitive Performance

Body movement is a complex mechanical process involving three major body systems: the nervous, muscular and skeletal. The mechanical aspects of body movement directly affect physical function, which is also associated with mental function. Physical and mental well-being are, in fact, so intricately intertwined that either one ultimately leads to the other, which creates a continuous loop of reciprocal benefits. Let’s take a deep dive into the categories of body movement, the relationship between body movement and physical and cognitive performance and how this relationship is vital to overall health and the performance of athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

3 Fundamental Categories of Body Movement

There are three main categories of body movements that include locomotor, nonlocomotor and manipulative exercises:

  1. Locomotor – Locomotor movement includes involves moving from one location to another by either moving forward, backward or in any direction. Examples of locomotive movements include running, walking, biking, skipping and more.
  2. Nonlocomotor – Nonlocomotor movements are static and do not involve travel. Instead, they use movement around the body’s axis (axial movement). Nonlocomotor exercises include stretching, bending and twisting.
  3. Manipulative – Manipulative movement, sometimes also referred to as object control skills, are exercises that include controlling an object (or equipment) such as throwing, kicking or dribbling a ball.

While these exist separately, many athletes use a combination of the movements when exercising.

How Body Movement Affects Physical and Mental Function

Body movement is controlled by the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems. From the blinking of our eyes to breathing, eating, walking and jumping, these three systems work together to produce a change in the position of many body parts with respect to the whole body. To put it in a nutshell, the nervous system controls body movement “through a complex and highly coordinated mechanical interaction between bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints within the musculoskeletal system.” Neurons send signals to the muscles; muscle fibers attached to the bones either contract or relax in response; and the bones, ligaments and joints produce the movement.

We know that body movement through physical exercise leads to physical fitness. It has also been established that physical exercise can positively impact brain health. There is a clear and direct relationship between body movement and physical and mental function. Understanding this relationship can lead to better monitoring and control of body movement for improved physical and cognitive performance. 

Body Movement and Its Impact on Different Body Functions

The physical activities involved in exercise and sports are deliberate and designed to achieve specific results. These body movements also positively impact different body functions and physical health.

Exercise and sports improve circulation by increasing blood flow throughout the body. High levels of physical activity make the heart pump faster and push the blood through the blood vessels under higher pressure and velocity. Because blood transports oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body, the body’s many organs are supplied with higher levels of oxygen, which helps improve their function. 

Skeletal muscles also play a role within the cardiovascular system. The heart acts as the pump to move blood throughout all the cells in the body, but the skeletal muscles assist with the movement of blood back to the heart. For example, when you squeeze your leg muscles to walk, stand, kick, run or jump, the skeletal muscles squeeze the veins and force the blood to get moving. Valves within the veins ensure that blood only flows in one direction — back to the heart.

This means that body movement is crucial to ensuring proper blood flow. In addition, because proper blood flow is needed to support the functions of all the cells and organs in the body, body movement directly impacts different body functions. 

Body Movement and Its Impact on Brain Function

The brain controls many types of body movement, but body movement in the form of exercise also benefits brain function.

You may have heard of “runner’s high,” “getting high on endorphins,” and “mental tranquility through yoga.” Countless studies have looked at how physical activity affects brain health—both physiologically and psychologically. There’s an abundance of evidence that shows how physical exercise “induces structural and functional changes in the brain, determining enormous benefit on both cognitive functioning and well-being.” Studies have also found that physical exercise has neuroprotective mechanisms, meaning it can help slow down neurodegeneration associated with aging and certain diseases.

The increased heart rate which results from the deliberate body movement in exercise and sports also pumps more oxygen into the brain. In addition, exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells by stimulating the release of certain hormones. Brain plasticity is improved through exercise due to the growth stimulation of new neuronal connections in many critical cortical areas of the brain. Overall, body movement through exercise contributes to improved brain function.

In terms of mental well-being, exercise has been shown to reduce stress hormones, thereby having an antidepressant effect. Combined with the release of feel-good hormones, exercise impacts mood and mental condition positively. One study, in particular, found that “the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.” 

Cognitive function involves both biological and psychological fitness. With the deliberate body movements involved in exercise, both are achieved to ensure optimal cognitive function.


Man checking his fitness device and hydrating.

Why Body Movement Is Important to Overall Health

More often than not, we move our bodies without thought. Body movement is a fundamental component of being alive, but the human body is also capable of many types of movement that are beyond what’s normal and necessary. 

Physical movement in exercise is necessary for many people to achieve and maintain their desired physical form and level of strength or excel at a sport. But besides the benefits of having a good and robust physique and developing excellent sports skills, exercise or any other type of regular physical activity is essential to maintain overall health throughout one’s lifetime. 

Body Movement, Exercise and Sports Performance

To achieve your desired results from exercise or sports, your body movements must be executed correctly and with the proper techniques, and you must have proper form. Correct execution and proper form help prevent injury and ensure maximum results and performance, and these are determined based on an individual’s abilities and goals. 

Regular physical training conditions the body to be stronger and more flexible and have higher endurance. Having the right techniques and proper form will effectively help build power, improve coordination and enhance speed so that your athletic 4performance will keep improving over time.

Knowing the proper execution of any physical activity during exercise or training will allow you to move efficiently, have a full range of motion and optimize your performance. Whatever your chosen activity and whichever body parts are involved, always make sure that you know how to execute it properly. 

Body Movement and Mental Wellness

When you look good, you feel good. This is a common motivation used by many to push themselves to exercise regularly or, at least, engage in regular physical activity. Aside from the scientifically proven brain benefits of exercise, regular, deliberate and controlled body movements help improve focus and alertness.

It’s also often said, however, that maintaining physical fitness through a commitment to regular exercise requires mental dedication and a strong will. The motivation to move to stay healthy is often a mental exercise, after all. This means that you also have to condition your mind to push yourself to get up and move — whether the body movement involves a simple walk around the block, 30 minutes of running on a treadmill, laps in the pool or doing yoga.

But once you get your body moving and you see results, the sense of achievement compounds the effects of the feel-good hormones, high oxygen levels in the brain and the pleasure of being in good shape — all of which contribute to your mental well-being.

One of the most effective ways to keep your mind “psyched” for physical activity is to do something you like. Sticking to a schedule is also important, as it’s only through repetition that you can turn your physical activity into an integral part of your lifestyle.

Regular Physical Movement for Physical and Mental Health

Engaging in dedicated exercise or sports is ideal, but those aren’t your only options to stay physically active. Here are some simple ways you can incorporate physical activities into your daily routine:

  • Whether you’re working from home or at the office, try using a standing desk if possible. Alternatively, simply standing up for 5 or 10 minutes every one or two hours throughout your workday is also beneficial.
  • Stand or walk around if you have to take a call. Or simply walk up and down the stairs to stretch your legs during your breaks.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Just walking three to five flights will get your heart pumping and make a big difference.
  • When going to the store, park as far away as possible from the entrance and walk the rest of the way.
  • Walk around the house while brushing your teeth and while waiting for your coffee maker to finish brewing or your food to finish cooking. Stand instead of sitting down while drinking your coffee. 
  • Walk on the treadmill while watching TV.
  • Take your dog for a long walk or a nice jog once a day. Play with your dog outdoors or go hiking during the weekend.
  • Do yard work, such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves or gardening.
  • Try recovery workouts to stay active on the days you have off.

Final Thoughts: Intentional and Controlled Body Movement for Overall Fitness

Monitor how much you move in a day and find ways to increase your physical activity. If you’re already physically active, take a closer look at how you move each body part for a particular type of exercise and make sure you’re employing the proper techniques. If you want to improve your physical performance, learn alternate ways to perform an exercise or add a new one to your routine. If you want to achieve and maintain good cognitive function, the answer is also the same: Keep your body moving.

Physical and cognitive health gets better with movement, and achieving this, in turn, will lead to a more enjoyable life.



Michelle Lievense is a writer specializing in health and wellness for people and animals. She is particularly fond of serving high-integrity organizations that contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions.



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