The brainis the body’s most active organ and thus requires the most energy to functionwell. The brain is estimated to account for 2% of our body’s weight butuses 20-30% of our body’s energy. Because the brain doesn’t store oxygenand glucose, it requires the blood stream to provide thenecessary requirements to function well. What’s becoming more and moreevident from the research is the benefit that exercise can play in proper brainfunction. As you think about the requirementsfor the optimum functioning of the brain, what are theimplications to educators?
Researchshould guide school decision-makers when they consider increased seat-timefor students. The Stanford publication, Lifestyleand HD (June 26, 2010) pointed out thehow blasts of oxygen increases cognition:
Ina test, students had a one-minute blast of oxygen given to them immediatelybefore being given a list of words to remember. On average, the students whotook the oxygen remembered two to three more words from a list of 15 than thosewho did not. Students who took oxygen while playing the Tetris computer game onits most demanding level were also shown to play significantly better. Exercisecan act very similarly to having a one-minute blast of oxygen. Ifperformed on a consistent basis, exercise has the effect of providing a dose ofcontinuous oxygen to the brain, such that the cognitive boosts can becontinually maintained as well. The increase in blood circulation because ofexercise can induce the formation of new blood vessels that can, in turn,facilitate the creation of new nerve cells.
We’re notgoing to see classrooms with oxygen tanks in them to give students blasts ofoxygen, but we can see more physical exercise being done in schools to do thesame thing. The trick is getting kids who are reluctant to move to become engaged. As Michelle Tine of Dartmouth notes, exercise must befun. Her research also corroborates others’ findings thatexercise improves cognitive functioning,especially for low-income kids.
Estes ParkMiddle School in Colorado has taken this research seriously. Theyhave instituted a daily fitness-based PE program for notonly the purpose of wellness but as an instructional strategy. They’ve begun an ambitious goal to incorporate a full Exergaming centerin their facilityfor the same purpose. Already staff and students arevery excited about utilizing the fun of Exergaming as a means tomotivate people to be physically active. The unique partabout EstesPark is that the whole community is moving toward a focus onwellness: the school district, the medical center, and the town. The Estes Park Middle School has played a pivotal role in pavingthe way in this endeavor.
Theexciting thing is that we now have the science to support educatorsmoving toward a more activity-based school experience. What’s always been true in education is that implementation seems totrail scientific research. The good news is that there are schoolleaders who are beginning to realize the value of this science and making thechanges needed to implement its findings.