Exercise, Movement, and Learning

Here is one of my most favorite studies of all time.  The Naperville study demonstrates the powerful connection between movement and learning.  I originally wrote this article on the Naperville study on January 2, 2010, and I am republishing this content because it is so important.  Enjoy!

Exercise and the Brain

If you’re involved at your child’s school, you may want to print this one out and take it to your next parent meeting to support the inclusion of effective Physical Education in schools.  School administrators need to read the astounding body of research surrounding the connection between exercise and learning…..and remove the coke machines, but that’s another article.

Exercise has profound effects on the parts of the brain responsible for learning new information.

A study conducted in the small town of Naperville, IL, revealed that physical exercise can dramatically improve learning abilities by increasing attention, concentration, and memory skills. When high school students at Naperville High participated in an unusual exercise program called Zero Hour, their scores on an international test for math and science skyrocketed. The students were required to exercise for ten minutes while keeping their heart rate at 185 bpm. This occurred prior to class and at the end of the year, Naperville students took the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). his is the test cited by author Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, when he states that students in Asian countries are “eating our lunch.”

On average, US students rank 18th in science and 19th in math on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). When the the Naperville students took this test at the end of that year, they ranked number ONE in math and number SIX in science in the world, beating out Singapore in math. Because 97% of the students were included in the group, these results cannot be attributed to the brightest kids in the school.

What is it about exercise that dramatically increases learning abilties? Exercise heightens the senses, improves focus and mood, decreases tention, and increases motivation by doing two things: balancing neurotransmitters and promoting brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) that are like Miracle Grow for the brain. The same neurotransmitters that make us happy are associated with attention, and the Miracle Grow-like substance mentioned primes the brain for learning. Because memories represent actual changes at the cellular level, adequate levels of this substance needs to be present for these change to occur.

This study reopens the case for PE in schools, but it must meet a specific intensity level to be effective.  The key difference with effective exercise is heartrate, which must reach the individual’s maximum for at least ten minutes shortly prior to learning.  If Naperville is any indication, and I believe it is, then PE needs to be redesigned and implemented in every single school. Not only would it help decrease the 38% obesity rate in teens and improve health, it would apparently promote academic success.

Fascinating.  Next time your kid has a test, why not play tag for 10 minutes?  Get winded.  Then study the test information with your child and see what happens.  Maybe they will retain more of the information at a faster rate feel better to boot.

That’s all from South Florida today, folks.  Movement and learning are so interconnected.  Did you know that “fidget” desks are now available for children who have difficulty sitting still?  Stand up desks, too.  The fidget desk has an actual fidget bar underneath the desk which allows the child to fidget without making a sound.  I think that’s pretty wonderful because there are many kids out there who would rather gouge their eyeballs out than sit still for 2 seconds.  Very cool when smart, creative people come up with great ideas that help set our kids up for success!  Ciao for now.