Why Study Movement?

“… to move things is all mankind can do... whether in whispering a syllable, 
or in felling a forest.”
— Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, 1926
1932 Nobel Prize Winner 

Why study something so basic, like our ability to move? I’d argue it’s not just an esoteric curiosity of ours (though according to our about page, we may be a bit biased). That understanding our ability to control and learn movement is one of the most fundamental scientific questions of modern neuroscience.

It’s clear that society values skilled movement — look no further than the popularity of professional sports. The world’s top athletes are like modern day Roman gladiators — paid millions and doted after by people from every country on Earth, all because of their ability to move. Consider the national pride and identity emanating from events like the World Cup, or the Olympics. Our collective passion for sports has pervaded nearly every aspect of society since antiquity. 

Skilled movement is also important in the arts. This is most apparent in the case of dance, but every traditional artistic medium relies on some degree of skilled movement for its creation. Even for an activity as cerebral as writing, the way the words flow best when writing with your preferred medium (a pen vs. a keyboard) implies a role for movement. 

The importance of movement isn’t restricted to the highly skilled, however. Movement is essential to everyone. The careers of many require movement in the form of trade skills. Regular exercise is perhaps the single most important thing you can do for your health — it cuts your risk of dying from pretty much any disease in half. [1]

Losing our ability to move is a staggering blow to our quality of life [2], and health problems affecting our movement abilities impose a significant economic burden. Consider stroke: approximately 16 million first time strokes occur each year worldwide. The economic burden? In the US alone: ~ $65 billion a year. About half of these costs are due to disability — that is, losses in work productivity and the need for assistance in daily activities [3]. Our aging population ensures that these issues will only become more problematic. The number of people in the world aged over 60 was nearly 500 million in 1990, and by 2030 that number will increase to nearly 1.4 billion [3]. The study of human motor control and learning is clearly a fundamental concern for medicine. 

However, the study of human movement doesn’t need to be so serious! Exploring our ability to move is an exciting, enlightening enterprise—whether you’re motivated by helping others, pushing yourself to achieve a goal, or driven by an innate curiosity. 

As the Sherrington quote above alludes, movement is our only means of communicating with the world [4]. Of all the impressive things our brain can do, movement remains our only “output”. It’s essential to everything we do — it’s all we can do. The science behind this fundamental ability of ours is inherently fascinating, intersecting the fields of neuroscience, psychology, kinesiology—even robotics, engineering and computer science. Understanding human motor control and learning is closely related to some of our biggest scientific questions — like how the brain works. That seems pretty important!

We hope you join us in exploring this fascinating science!

References:

  1. Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal; journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 174(6), 801–9. doi:10.1503/cmaj.051351
  2. Robinson, R. G., & Jorge, R. E. (2016). Post-Stroke Depression: A Review. The American journal of psychiatry, 173(3), 221–31. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15030363
  3. Di Carlo, A. (2009). Human and economic burden of stroke. Age and ageing, 38(1), 4–5. doi:10.1093/ageing/afn282
  4. Schwartz, A. B. (2016). Movement: How the Brain Communicates with the World. Cell, 164(6), 1122–35. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2016.02.038