Question: What European monarch was trained as an auto mechanic?
You guessed correctly if you answered “Queen Elizabeth”. Yes, indeed, during World War 2, this English princess worked to repair jeeps. During the war, her father, King George V (or Bertie) raised successful gardens while Queen Mary hosted sewing bees in the palace to help keep the soldiers clothed warmly. Our children may not always behave royally, but let’s confess it. They are royalty in our hearts. Unfortunately, as computers and the internet are deemed essential to their education, the assets from manual work are often devalued. We think both are important. However, manual labor should be introduced before computer usage for optimal overall development of the brain, health, and character. Adults need to engage in practical, manual labor to achieve optimal health.
Strengthens the Front Brain
Manual, mind-engaging labor strengthens the front brain. Spirituality, conscience, initiative, the will, the ability to plan and execute decisions, and the motor centers which regulate gross and discreet movements are all located in the front brain. Motivated, manual labor strengthens the front brain more than mental work alone. Perhaps this is why health educator, Ellen White, wrote that “the will goes with the labor of the hands,”1 and that gardening will “quicken the mind and refine and elevate the character.”2 Dr. Bernell Baldwin, neurophysiologist and worldwide lecturer, states: “Motivated work integrates the brain. The motor centers of the brain are near the center of the cerebrum. Unlike video games and computers, useful, constructive work gives sensory balance to the mind.” Some educators are aware of the detriments of introducing computers to students before they have had sufficient exposure to the practical arts of life—cooking, sewing, basic carpentry, gardening, and housekeeping. Computers are valuable, but they can never replace motivated, thought-provoking manual labor in the building of intellect and character.
Improves Hand-Eye Coordination and Reaction Time
Good hand-eye coordination is essential in developing good response times. To reach for an object, the brain must transmit visual inputs of an object to the motor area of the brain, which regulates hand and arm movement. As we age, reaction time generally slows. Studies show that the elderly who engage in regular aerobic exercise have better reaction times than younger individuals who engage in minimal physical exercise (if all other factors are constant).3 Therefore, unless hindered by degenerative diseases, the elderly should be encouraged to participate in daily manual labor.
Improves Balance and Coordination
Daily physical work or exercise improve balance and coordination, thus decreasing the risk of falling as we age (if all other factors are equal). So baby boomers, are you worried about getting old? Engage in manual labor and physical exercise. Try developing a new hobby like carpentry or gardening to stimulate the brain cells.
Helps to Reduce Depression and Anxiety
Another advantage to consider: mentally stimulating manual labor helps to defeat depression and anxiety. Long-term or major depression reduces the blood flow in the front brain and interferes with its electronics. It also depletes the frontal lobe of important chemicals, such as serotonin. Depression activates the amygdalae located in the temporal lobes of the brain. These twin organs store fear-related emotions. Since the amygdalae becomes overactive in depression, fear often overrides trust in God, erodes the will, and lowers initiative. Wholesome motivation deteriorates into fear-dominated self-protection.
Depression and chronic anxiety are prevalent along with serious diseases. In order for them to be overcome, thoughts and actions that are automatically negative and self-defeating must be consciously replaced with positive ones. This requires activation of the front brain.
The two motor systems that control fine and gross movements are located toward the back of the frontal lobes and the center of the cerebrum. By engaging in simple carpentry, gardening, sewing, and similar activities, a depressed or anxious individual can feed positive input into the front brain, helping to override negative tendencies. The sense of accomplishment derived from a task well done improves future positive motivation. The blood flow within the brain becomes balanced, and the chemistry in the front brain improves.
Frequent physical exercise, which is associated with many types of manual labor, enhances the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in maintaining self-control and a positive outlook, and norepinephrine, a natural anti-depressant in the brain. Several factors, however, usually contribute to depression, and each one needs to be addressed. Useful, pleasant, mind-engaging manual labor, however, is a valid therapy in the treatment of depression.
The hippocampus, which is located in the temporal lobes of the brain, is an important organ involved in learning and retaining information. It also helps to regulate mood. Major depression, chronic anxiety, prolonged stress, and alcohol reduce brain-derived nerve growth factor (BDNF) and shrink the hippocampus. BDNF protects the brain cells, including those in the hippocampus, and acts as a fertilizer to the synapses. A variety of combined physical and mental exercises (including motivated manual labor), accompanied by adequate vitamin D, a diet low in sugar and high-fat foods, and good quality sleep will increase BDNF. The mind will become brighter and clearer; learning will become faster and more efficient. The sooner children and teenagers adopt these lifestyle principles, the sharper will be their intellects and the more ennobled their characters. Industrial arts training, home economics, and school gardening programs will not only improve the health of our front brain, but will also provide a blessing to our communities and to those with whom we can share the work of our hands.
Promotes Balanced Development of the Left Brain
The cerebrum, the upper seven-eighths of the brain, is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is concerned with logic, sequential reasoning, mechanics, mathematics, and language. The right hemisphere emphasizes music, art, emotions, imagination, and social skills. Both are necessary and are integrated and coordinated by an extensive nerve tract called the corpus collosum. Studies show that individuals with greater activity in the left hemisphere show greater efficiency in resisting disease than those with greater activity in the right.
Lower activity in the left frontal lobe is often exhibited during depression and even after recovery. Depressed young boys, compared with those who did not suffer from depression, had less activity in the left side of the brain and greater activity in the right side. This resulted in significantly reduced grip strength in their right hands.4 Similar observations have been made regarding social phobias and post-traumatic-stress syndrome (PTSD). However, manual labor that is altruistic, mind-engaging, and useful, increases brain activity and improves blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain.
Elementary teachers will testify that one of the best ways to help a student learn math is by using manipulative techniques. Movement seems essential in the development of memory and language skills. Evidence in neurobiology links the cerebellum* to the coordination of thoughts.5 PET scan studies show that reflective thinking and mental effort produce increased blood flow to both the prefrontal brain and the right side of the cerebellum.6
Regular, physical exercise, which accompanies manual tasks (i.e. housekeeping, organizing, and yard work) could prevent, slow down, and to some extent, even heal age-induced deterioration of the brain. Additionally, the neural circuits involved in manual labor, which compose the brain’s infrastructure, often enable us to unlock or develop other circuits in learning. Useful labor can be a gateway to higher learning.
I cannot state it better than did the educator Ellen White: “Physical labor that is combined with mental taxation for usefulness is a discipline in practical life, sweetened always by the reflection that it is qualifying and educating the mind and body better to perform the work God designs men shall do in various lines. The more perfectly youth understand how to perform the duties of practical life; the keener and the more healthful will be their enjoyment day by day in being of use to others.”7
*an organ in the lower posterior area of the brain which coordinates movements and helps to maintain posture
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
- White, E.G., The Ministry of Healing, 1905, p. 239
- White, E.G., Mind, Character, and Personality, Vol. 2, 1977, p. 649
- Baylor, A.M., et al, Systematic aerobic exercise and components of reaction time in older women. J Gerontol, 43(5):P121-6, 1988
- Emerson, C.S., et al, Grip asymmetry in depressed boys. Neuropsychiatry Neuropsychol Behav Neurol, 14(2):130-4, 2001
- Nyberg, L., Learning by doing versus learning by thinking: an fMRI study of motor and mental training. Neuropsycholog, Oct 6, 2005
- Cabeza, R., et al, Imaging cognition II: an empirical review of 275 PET and fMRI studies. J Cogn Neurosci, 12(1):1-47, 2000
- White, E.G., Fundamentals of Education, pp. 228, 229.(1)