Originally published Aug. 11, 2017 in the Kearney Hub.
By Marc Bauer
The benefits of exercise have long been shared and addressed as a means to self-medicate, not medication. Even Hippocrates encouraged exercise as the best treatment for health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that next to eating healthy, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Exercise has profound effects on the brain. Physical exercise turns on our brains, leaves us more fit and turns us into better learners. Recent research reveals improved benefits to students’ learning cognition, attention span, and memory.
Exercise helps students regulate emotions, like depression, anxiety, and aggression. It can also help students excel academically and improve self-concept and motivation.
The importance of physical activity in school-aged children was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in December 2015 when education policy reform enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replacing No Child Left Behind. The pressures moving away from NCLB demonstrated the need to address education reform logically and holistically for student academic achievement and well-being.
ESSA is the first educative legislation acknowledging the importance of a “well-rounded” education. The immediate and potential impact of ESSA allows physical educators and state and national organizations of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) to develop comprehensive health and physical education programs nationwide. Parents and educators want to see their students excel academically and stimulating the brain with a little exercise throughout each day is a good treatment.
Understanding the pressures to maximize instructional time at the expense of or limited physical education, recess, or short physical activity breaks cuts into opportunities to activate the brain and the many positive side-effects which can improve the learner. It is easy to dismiss statistics which affect many children, yet in our mind has nothing to do with our own.
Could a little more activity throughout the day benefit your student(s)? Compelling evidence that physical activity improves cognitive function and academic performance in children is a proven remedy.
If we are going to medicate students, the best ingredient to help them cope with sitting still for long periods, paying attention, and doing their work is to get them out of their seats and to move.
1) Promote time during the school day — energizers or brain breaks — for quality physical activity with short exercise breaks before and after long periods of sitting. Work physical activity into regular classroom routine.
2) Incorporate physical activity into other core subjects such as math, science and language arts.
3) Encourage active involvement in after-school programs that get students moving.
5) Urge safe, active transport to and from school by walking, skateboarding or bicycling.
6) Support exercise opportunities during lunch and before and after school.
7) Be a role model for active behavior. Children learn behaviors from adults.
Marc Bauer is an assistant professor, COE, Kinesiology Sports Science, at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.