The brain is the body’s most active organ and thus requires the most energy to function well. The brain is estimated to account for 2% of our body’s weight but uses 20-30% of our body’s energy. Because the brain doesn’t store oxygen and glucose, it requires the bloodstream to provide the necessary requirements to function well. What’s becoming more and more evident from the research is the benefit that exercise can play in proper brain function. As you think about the requirements for the optimum functioning of the brain, what are the implications for educators?
Research should guide school decision-makers when they consider increased seat-time for students. The Stanford publication, Lifestyleand HD (June 26, 2010) pointed out the how blasts of oxygen increase cognition:
Ina the test, students had a one-minute blast of oxygen given to them immediately before being given a list of words to remember. On average, the students who took the oxygen remembered two to three more words from a list of 15 than those who did not. Students who took oxygen while playing the Tetris computer game on its most demanding levels were also shown to play significantly better. Exercise can act very similarly to having a one-minute blast of oxygen. If performed on a consistent basis, exercise has the effect of providing a dose of continuous oxygen to the brain, such that the cognitive boosts can be continually maintained as well. The increase in blood circulation because of exercise can induce the formation of new blood vessels that can, in turn, facilitate the creation of new nerve cells.
We’re not going to see classrooms with oxygen tanks in them to give students blasts of oxygen, but we can see more physical exercise being done in schools to do the same thing. The trick is getting kids who are reluctant to move to become engaged. As Michelle Tine of Dartmouth notes, exercise must be fun. Her research also corroborates others’ findings that exercise improves cognitive functioning, especially for low-income kids.
Estes park middle School in Colorado has taken this research seriously. They have instituted a daily fitness-based PE program for not only the purpose of wellness but as an instructional strategy. They’ve begun an ambitious goal to incorporate a full Exergaming center in their facility for the same purpose. Already staff and students arevery excited about utilizing the fun of Exergaming as a means to motivate people to be physically active. The unique part about EstesPark is that the whole community is moving toward a focus on wellness: the school district, the medical center, and the town. The Estes Park Middle School has played a pivotal role in paving the way in this endeavor.
The exciting thing is that we now have the science to support educators moving toward a more activity-based school experience. What’s always been true in education is that implementation seems to trail scientific research. The good news is that there are school leaders who are beginning to realize the value of this science and making the changes needed to implement its findings.