#Take5 #86 Taking Positive Steps for Learning and Teaching: Movement for Learner Developers.

This #Take5 is brought to you from Lisa Clughen, Nottingham Trent University. It is both about the importance of movement in HE – and an invitation to participate in a small research project focussing on qigong-based mindful movement in HE.

#Take5 steps? Taking Positive Steps in Learning and Teaching: An Invitation to Participate in Mindful Movement Research.

Image: Lisa Clughen doing some Mindful Movement at the Lourve-Lens, France

If you could do a very short activity during your working day that, research suggests, could reap wide-ranging rewards for your physical, cognitive and mental health and wellbeing, and in fact for your quality of life and longevity in general, would you do it? If so, then the activity I suggest is movement. Any movement is better than no movement (WHO 2020, pp. 11 et passim) and yields all sorts of benefits for health, the World Health Organisation (WHO) tells us (2020, 38), but the point is that we need to keep moving throughout the day. This, however, is where the problem lies for many students, learner developers and other colleagues in academia. Academic pursuits invite sedentariness – reading, research and writing, lectures, seminars and workshops, learner support consultations and other meetings, administration such as course and assessment preparation and marking, conferences and events are all mainly sedentary. For many, it can be difficult to embed regular movement into one’s day as the environments in which we work and the tasks we perform are, in the main, not conducive to regular physical activity. 

I am a Spanish Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and during the Covid-19 pandemic, I was concerned about my own sedentariness when teaching went online. I signed up for qigong classes with Brian Simpson, a qigong Grand Master, and Shamash Alidina, a mindfulness teacher and trainer in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Qigong is a traditional Chinese movement practice for health and wellbeing that was developed as a part of Chinese medicine (NCCIH and NIH 2022). It aligns the mind with the breath and movement to optimise its benefits for health. I found the movement so beneficial that I decided to introduce it into my level one Spanish classes and I trained with Brian and Shamash to teach a type of mindful movement that they had adapted from qigong to align with the principles of ACT therapy. I also trained as an Embodiment coach with Embodiment Unlimited (2023) and encountered several movement modalities as part of my training. Movement, I found, did for me exactly what the literature was suggesting it would do: it was beneficial for my mind, body and spirit – I simply felt much better after doing it. 

In 2021, I won a mini sabbatical from the Trent Institute of Learning and Teaching (TILT) at NTU to explore whether mindful movement would be of benefit for student wellbeing and for other aspects of learning such as executive function (see Clughen, 2022a and 2022b). I therefore embedded some of the mindful movements into my online classroom in order to examine the student experience of the movements. The students responded so positively that I won a further, longer-term sabbatical in 2022-23 to gauge the benefits of mindful movement for the purposes of Higher Education in general. Part of this research will be to invite HE colleagues to trial some short videos of the mindful movements and to complete a short questionnaire to gauge their opinions on mindbody practices in HE. I would love readers to participate in this research and enclose participation details below, but I will first briefly describe some of the reasons I encountered in the research I did on sedentariness and physical activity that have led me to believe that movement (not just mindful movement) is not just ‘of use to the academy’, but such an essential part of what we do in education that it should be factored into HE activities as a matter of course. 

Some Benefits of Movement for Academic Concerns

Before I outline some key benefits of physical activity for HE, I would like to start with reference to matters of inclusivity. Physical activity is defined as the expenditure of energy by moving the skeletal muscles (WHO, 2020, 15) and this definition is important when considering the inclusivity of movement activities as it does not mean that only those who can stand can engage in energy expenditure. It must be understood that movement is much broader in definition than standing up and can be done sitting or even in the mind as practised in the process of ideokinesis (the exploration and training of movement patterns in the mind (see Qingya Phyllis, 2015).  

Wide-ranging research has established the positive links between movement and physical, mental and cognitive health. This is not really surprising given that to function optimally, bodies need to move. However, after decades of large-scale, large cohort studies on the impact of physical activity on health, medical establishments and scientific researchers can speak in wholly categorical terms about the negative impact of inactivity and the positive impact of activity on different aspects of health and longevity for all populations and health groups: 

There is a strong link between physical activity and health.

– Montoye and Conger, 2022

illustration of a person feeling alive and healthy

Regular physical activity (….) can improve mental health, quality of life and well-being.

– WHO, 2018, 6

Physical activity is a key contributing factor to healthy brain function.

– Doherty and Miravalles, 2019, 1

Regular physical activity is proven to help prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) (…) and can improve mental health, quality of life and well-being.

– WHO, 2018, 6

Taking more steps per day was associated with a progressively lower risk of all-cause mortality.

– Paluch et al., 2022, e225

For good physical and mental health, adults should aim to be physically active every day. Any activity is better than none, and more is better still.

– UK Chief Medical Officers, 2019

The benefits of physical activity for academic concerns themselves are extensive. Research indicates that movement enhances issues as wide-ranging as: the regulation of attention, focus and intent for learning; information-processing, working memory and knowledge retrieval – all factors involved in successful academic performance. Movement can also promote creativity as it encourages mental flexibility; it can stimulate feelings of pleasure and joy and has a well-researched impact on mental health and wellbeing; it also generates a sense of group belonging and group cohesion. Its links to education are, then, clear.

The lists of the benefits of movement for different aspects of health and wellbeing can seem endless. The WHO, for example, lists the following:

In children and adolescents, physical activity confers benefits for the following health outcomes: improved physical fitness (cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness), cardiometabolic health (blood pressure, dyslipidaemia, glucose, and insulin resistance), bone health, cognitive outcomes (academic performance, executive function), mental health (reduced symptoms of depression); and reduced adiposity. (WHO, 2020, 1)

In adults, physical activity confers benefits for the following health outcomes: improved all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, incident hypertension, incident site-specific cancers, 2 incident type-2 diabetes, mental health (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression); cognitive health, and sleep; measures of adiposity may also improve. (WHO, 2020, 2)

Sedentariness in Academia

Yet sedentariness is an issue in academia across the globe. Research indicates that physical activity is a not a feature of academic cultures (Castro et al., 2020): how many of us, when planning a teaching activity or organising a meeting actually schedule movement into our planning as a matter of course? I suspect few of us – especially given that the most recent data from the UK government on the UK population’s level of physical activity states that ‘Most adults and many children across the UK are insufficiently active to meet the full set of recommendations’ (UK Chief Medical Officers, 2019, 11) and reports elsewhere indicate that physical activity is not culturally acceptable in academia (Cowgill et al., 2021). In 2021, a systematic review of university students globally argued that that sedentary time had increased for students over the 10 years preceding the study and deemed students to be an ‘at-risk population’ of the negative health outcomes associated with sedentary behaviours (Castro et al., 2020).

Invitation to Participate in Mindful Movement Research: Feasibility, Acceptability and Use Value of Embedding Physical Activity into Higher Education

Yet given what we know about the positive impact of physical activity on concerns that are at the forefront of academic agendas (such as mental health and wellbeing and cognition) and, indeed, on our quality of life and longevity in general, it seems that the evidence abounds to advocate structuring regular, hourly opportunities for movement into university life as a cultural norm. I’m not saying that this is easy, but research into physical activity seems to indicate that physical activity  is more than ‘a pleasant thing to do in learning and teaching’, to be embraced by those who may have a predilection for movement. As our health behaviours when younger can have long-term effects on how we age (WHO, 2022), it is arguably essential that educational environments consider the role they play in health behaviours and reduce where they can behaviours that have a harmful effect on public health such as sedentarism. The WHO (2020) has appealed to educators to reduce sedentary behaviours, in fact. How we might do this is, of course, the challenge and doing it is even more so. I have spent years now reading about the impact of sedentary behaviours on all-cause mortality and non-communicable diseases and have still found myself sitting in long meetings or conferences or writing academic papers without moving. It is difficult to remember to move and not always feasible to schedule regular opportunities into the working day to go to the gym or even for a power walk around the campus. I therefore wanted to find movement activities that would be more feasible for people in Higher Education who wish to move more, activities that people could do at their desk, that would not take too much time out from their tasks and that they might find simple to remember, interesting or enjoyable (as that is important for sustainability). The qigong based-mindful movement met these requirements and my research invites any member of staff in any context in Higher Education to trial some very short movements to gauge how you respond to them. 

How to Participate

The research is being conducted by Lisa Clughen, from the Nottingham Institute of Languages and Intercultural Communication (NILIC) and Dr Alexander Sumich from the Department of Psychology at NTU. We would love anyone working in HE in any context to trial a 5-7 minute qigong-based video and give us your opinions. You may even win £20! HE staff sign up by completing the form.

or via the QR code:

QR code

Image: QR Code – allows access to registration

How about a Movement Movement? Interested in Developing Embodiment, Mindbody or Movement Practices for Higher Education?

If you are interested in developing the theme of embodiment, mindbody or other movement practices in HE, then you are welcome to contact me to discuss moving forward with this – perhaps by co-hosting or participating in an event on practical techniques for HE for health, wellbeing and educational purposes: lisa.clughen@ntu.ac.uk


Castro, O; Bennie, J; Vergeer, I; Bosselut, G and Biddle S. (2020). How Sedentary are University Students? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Prevention Science, 21(3), 332–343. DOI: 10.1007/s11121-020-01093-8

Clughen, L. (2022a). A Guide to Embedding Movement into Higher Education. [Online article]. Available from: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/1734211/A-Guide-to-Embedding-Movement-in-HE-Classrooms.pdf 

Clughen, L. (2022b). Embodiment in the Post-pandemic University: The Benefits of Mindful Movement for Learning. (A Tribute to bell hooks). [Online article]. Available from : https://postpandemicuniversity.net/2022/08/16/embodiment-in-the-post-pandemic-university-the-benefits-of-mindful-movement-for-learning-a-tribute-to-bell-hooks/ 

Cowgill, B; Perez, V; Gerdes, E; Sadda, A; Ly, C; Slusser, W and Leung, A. (2021). Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your Health! Faculty and Student Perspectives on Addressing Prolonged Sitting in University Settings. Journal of American College Health, 69(2), 198-207

Doherty, A. and Forés Miravalles, A. (2019). Physical Activity and Cognition: Inseparable in the Classroom. Frontiers in Education, 4(105), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2019.00105 

Embodiment Unlimited. (2023). Embodiment Unlimited: Connect, Learn, Practice. Embodiment Unlimited. Available from: https://embodimentunlimited.com/ 

Montoye, A. and Conger, S. (2022). Living a Long Life is a Multi-Step Process. Lancet Public Health, 7(3), e200-e201. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(22)00012-3 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2022). Qigong: What You Need to Know. [Online article]. Available from: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/qigong-what-you-need-to-know 

Paluch, A; Bajpai, S; Bassett, D; Carnethon, M; Ekelund, U. and Eveson, K; et al. (2022). Daily Steps and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of 15 International Cohorts. Lancet Public Health, 7(3), e219-e228. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(21)00302-9 

Qingya Phyllis, X. (2015). Ideokinesis and Movement Imagery. [Online article]. Available from: https://integratedmovement-ideas.weebly.com/integrated-movement-ideas/ideokinesis-and-movement-imagery 

UK Chief Medical Officers. (2019). UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines. [Online article]. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/832868/uk-chief-medical-officers-physical-activity-guidelines.pdf 

World Health Organisation (WHO). (2022). Ageing and Health. [Online article]. Available from:  https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ageing-and-health 

World Health Organisation (WHO). (2020). WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour. [Online report]. Available from: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015128 

World Health Organisation (WHO). (2018). Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030: More Active People for a Healthier World. [Online report]. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272722/9789241514187-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y 


I am a Senior Lecturer in Spanish in the Nottingham Institute of Languages and Intercultural Communication (NILIC) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), UK. I have worked in Higher Education (HE) for over 30 years and, having established the School of Arts and Humanities’ Academic Support Service at NTU, I have also worked in learner development for many years. I am fascinated by the potential offered by our bodies for learning and as a supportive resource for life in general and my latest research into mindful movement for learning and wellbeing is an aspect of my longstanding academic work on embodiment. I also have professional certificates in embodiment and mindful movement coaching that guide my practical approaches to embodiment in HE.

3 thoughts on “#Take5 #86 Taking Positive Steps for Learning and Teaching: Movement for Learner Developers.”

  1. Loved the post – and good luck with the research project!
    (It’s true that we are not necessarily sedentary – I used to always be moving and dashing about my classroom – I have put on half a stone since I started teaching online!)

    1. Thank you! Half a stone doesn’t surprise me. Yes, good point: we aren’t necessarily sedentary and some subjects, tasks and roles are more sedentary than others. I imagine colleagues in Sports Science, dance and Social Care (to name only a few) do not have an issue with sedentary behaviours in the main. However, the research does say that we must move on a regular/hourly basis, so I’ve found it’s useful to be aware of this when engaging in tasks that can seduce me into sedentary behaviours – like research. Adding mindfulness and embodiment to movement also invites us to be very aware of how we are moving ask questions like: ‘How is my body responding as I dash about’? Or ‘Does the dashing about create stress and tension in my body?’

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