The Power of Physical-Cognitive Interplay


Interplay Explained

When you hear the words “physical-cognitive interplay” what comes to mind? If the interaction between the brain and the body is what you thought of you, you are exactly right! Understanding the powerful interaction between the brain and the body is essential in grasping how foundational this concept is to daily living. Let’s find out why:

When speaking about the brain, the neuronal systems include the brain itself but also the spinal cord. The neuronal system is the origin for our thinking - our cognitive functions such as attentional functions, executive functions, and memory functions. The body includes many systems, with our focus on the sensory and the motor system (together often called the sensorimotor system). The sensorimotor system is responsible for physical functions such as coordination, strength, and balance. 

Conducting a task/activity of our daily life requires not only our brain and our body but also their interaction. Let us give you an example. We take a rather simple activity like walking. Walking requires a healthy body, meaning intact physical functions from the sensorimotor systems. It’s obvious that walking requires muscle strength and balance. But those muscles need to be controlled and coordinated by a “central unit”, the neuronal system. To produce correct movements, the brain needs to process information from the sensory system, for example visual information from the eyes about the environment but also information from sensors inside the body (for example: on the skin or in the muscles). All of this information needs to be processed and integrated in the brain, requiring intact cognitive functions. Thus, there is an ongoing communication between the brain and the body which can never be separated from each other - the different systems are strongly interlinked. 

As you can see, almost everything we do in our daily life is based on an intact physical-cognitive interplay. However, keep in mind, all of these systems can be impaired. For example, impairment can occur during the aging process or in the course of a disease. This might lead to impairment in physical and cognitive functions which will also affect their interplay. Luckily, those systems are plastic and respond well to training (more to come about using cognitive-motor training to strengthen this interaction). Regarding the neuronal system, we recommend exploring this neuroplasticity article.