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New research reveals how the brain connects our bodies to our minds. Image credit: Angela Waye/Stocksy.
  • A new study shows that areas of the brain that are responsible for movement are connected to networks involved in thinking and planning, and control blood pressure and heartbeat, as well as other involuntary bodily actions.
  • Researchers discovered nonmovement areas in the brain that did not become active during movement but became active when the person thought about moving.
  • Neuroscientists support the idea of ‘movement planning’ and how the brain works in connection to decision-making regarding when to move, the consequences of movement, and so on.

New research published in the journal Nature further validates the concept that the mind and body are inherently linked.

According to the study, the parts of the brain that affect movement are tied into networks that are responsible for thinking and planning and influence several involuntary bodily functions, including blood pressure and heartbeat.

These findings are promising since there has been no prior scientific evidence to show how this mind-body connection works.

Researchers examined seven adults using fMRI brain scanning while resting or performing tasks. Using these data, they designed “brain maps” for each participant.

Next, they compared these results with a larger dataset containing brain scans from approximately 50,000 people.

“We’ve found the place where the highly active, goal-oriented ‘go, go, go’ part of your mind connects to the parts of the brain that control breathing and heart rate. If you calm one down, it absolutely should have feedback effects on the other,” notes lead author Dr. Evan M. Gordon, an assistant professor of radiology at the School of Medicine’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.

Interestingly, researchers discovered that nonmovement areas in the brain that did not become active during movement did become active when the person thought about moving.

Overall, this study is showing the important connection between the mind and body, and perhaps more specifically, the brain and body.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, neuroscientist and director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health and a physician at Jefferson University Hospital, not involved in the research, commented on the importance of this study for Medical News Today:

“In the integrative medicine and neurology worlds, there has long been conceived an intricate relationship between the brain and body such that many of our emotions are expressed through bodily processes, and many bodily processes such as heart rate inform our emotions and cognitions about the environment. This study more directly shows how this happens through a network between the motor and cognitive areas of the brain.”

This also makes sense in that our behaviors, including motor activity and language, need to be tied into our cognitive and emotional processes. This network helps us understand how this works, Dr. Newberg explained.

The findings also relate more specifically to the idea that our thoughts and feelings affect motor parts of the brain that prepare the brain for various behaviors and actions without actually being involved with those actions.

“The implication again is that our thoughts and feelings are tied into the ways in which we think about movement and behaviors,” Dr. Newberg added. “Similarly, our actions tie back into our thoughts and feelings. This information demonstrates the reciprocal interaction we have with our environment and between our thoughts, feelings, and actions.”

Keiland Cooper, a doctoral researcher in cognitive science and neuroscience at the University of California, Irvine, also shared his insights regarding how specific areas of the brain are responsible for different functions.

“When we think about moving, our brain activates a network of areas that are involved in planning, execution, and control of movement. However, not all of these areas are active when we actually move. Some brain areas are involved in movement planning,” he explained to MNT.

A famous study decoded where participants would move before they actually moved, and in some cases, before they thought about moving. This may be because our brain creates a mental model of the movement to help us plan and prepare for the movement.

Another possibility is that these areas are involved in evaluating the consequences of movement, Cooper added. This helps us to make decisions about whether or not to move, movement outcomes, and how to move safely.

It is likely that these areas are related to a network of brain regions that are related to movement, such as attention, motivation, and emotion.