Friday, January 29, 2016

On the Move Again

Those who know me, know that I love activity.  A “normal” day for me includes a 7-mile run, 45 minutes at the gym, a 16-mile bike ride, and quite possibly 9 holes of golf - walking.  To say that I’m Type-A about exercise is only to understand that no letters come before “A”.  So, you might imagine the pleasure I felt when, while reading Brain Rules by John Medina, I discovered that it’s our genetic heritage as homo sapiens to move - a lot.  Scientists who study such things say that our early ancestors walked and ran as much as 20 miles daily in search of food.  Exercise is “wired in” to our DNA.  You may wonder where, in an education blog, I’m going with this.

It turns out that scientists who study modern man have discovered that our bodies respond particularly well to exercise.  That’s probably not a huge revelation to you.  For those of you who don’t exercise regularly, you probably know that you “should” and that all manner of healthy outcomes result from regular exercise.  All manner of modern ills, like osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, and sleep disorders are cured or diminished by exercise.  What may be less well known, though, is that cognitive abilities are greatly enhanced by exercise.  Seniors who exercise regularly can be shown to not only live into their 90’s, a feat in and of itself, but to be mentally sharper than sedentary adults many years their junior.  It’s even been demonstrated that sedentary individuals who take up an exercise program show measurable improvement in cognitive ability in as little as four months of exercise.

Of particular interest to us as teachers is research that showed that students who were put on an exercise program of 30 minutes of jogging three times a week also showed an improvement in cognitive ability.  Also interesting is that when the program of regular jogging was terminated, students showed a drop-back to previous levels of ability as before they were running.  I must confess that as as classroom teacher, P.E. was not my first priority.  In fact, it was the first thing to go if we had a shortened week.  That may have been a mistake.  I’d be interested to hear what other teachers have done about exercise for their students.  For example, I’m guessing that 15 minutes daily might be easier to schedule and maintain.  How about 20 minutes, 4 times a week?  What about very active games?  What do you think?

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