Teachers find success using heart rate monitors to help students understand the benefits of physical activity in their physical education, health and STEM classrooms.

When she added IHT ZONE heart rate monitors to her health curriculum at Fort Lupton (Colo.) Middle School, Lindsay Yost saw an immediate difference in her students.

“The buy-in and effort levels are 180 degrees different (compared to before we had the monitors),” Yost said. “The kids are understanding. They want to work much harder.”


heart rate

Lindsay Yost's health class takes a break during a mountain bike session on a school field. Students wear heart rate monitors during class.

Other teachers who’ve added the IHT ZONE to their programs confirm Yost’s findings. Scott Smith added the IHT ZONE to his San Bernardino (Calif.) City Unified High School District program as the final piece of a multi-year program overhaul.

“The (heart rate monitor) gave them power they never thought they had,” Smith said. “It started to allow them to set their own personal goals. They were completely taking control of the situation.”

In order to help students get the most benefit from using the heart rate monitors, teachers focus on different benefits of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity:

  • The chemical reaction in your brain triggered by exercise
  • Finding favorite activities
  • Using the heart rate data to build understanding

The Science Behind Exercise and the Brain

PE and health teachers focus on two key scientific results specific to exercise with students.

“When we talk about drug use and the release of dopamine,” Yost said, “with exercise your body is always going to reward you.”

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how humans feel pleasure. Exercise has been proven to boost dopamine and adrenaline levels, which often leads to the sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of a workout when you’ve worked hard and/or met specific goals.

“When you combine exercise with something that you love and are passionate about, something that’s exciting, it releases adrenaline as well,” Yost said. “There’s not going to be a drug that compares to that.”

Teachers also point out that physical activity improves students’ cognitive health. Exercising at an increased heart rate delivers more oxygen to the brain, which aids the release of hormones that grow brain cells. When these neurons are firing, students are more ready to learn in classroom settings.

“Physical activity can have both immediate and long-term benefits on academic performance,” a report published by Active Living Research found in 2015. “Almost immediately after engaging in physical activity, children are better able to concentrate on classroom tasks, which can enhance learning.”

Finding Activities Students Enjoy

Teachers want students to stay active beyond their years in health and PE classes. Yost spends significant time encouraging students to find activities they are passionate about so they will stick with it as they move into adulthood.

For Yost, that passion comes in mountain biking. To show students that part of her personality, she created a mountain biking unit for her curriculum.

“My classroom has pictures of me racing and riding bikes,” Yost said. “The kids know it’s my passion. I tell them that no matter what physical activity they choose, they need to find something they are passionate about that they can continue for a lifetime.”

Charles City (Iowa) High School teacher Steve Stallsmith recently changed his PE curriculum to include lessons for activities he knows his students enjoy.

“I want to instruct them on how to help them become healthy for a lifetime,” he said. “Today that means engaging them in activities that I didn’t think about before. I’ve never had a skateboarding curriculum before, but I do now. If you do an activity, come and tell me and I’ll make a lesson. I told them that if you want to learn about skateboarding, I’ll call Tony Hawk if I have to.”

Stallsmith’s new approach appears to be working. Students are more active in class and more receptive to learning concepts that will help them embrace physical activity as a lifestyle.

“The kids are really engaged and that helps us with our program development,” Stallsmith said. “This is an investment, one I think will give me more time with kids teaching them the meaningful things about PE.”

Reinforcing Student Feeling with Heart Rate Data

The IHT ZONE’s heart rate reports enable teachers to reinforce their lessons with data specific to each student. Along with the real-time feedback they receive while wearing the IHT ZONE, students receive a post-session email that details their heart rate throughout the session.

“What’s the old quote?” Portage Central (Mich.) Middle School PE Teacher John Dunlop said. “’Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.’ To have to share with the kids and parents and to use it as a teacher, this is something that is very beneficial.”

With the reports, students see in an easy-to-follow format:

  • How many minutes they spent exercising in specific heart rate zones (blue, yellow, red)
  • How many total minutes of MVPA they achieved during class
  • Whether they met the daily goal for MVPA
  • A graph with their heart rate throughout the session

Teachers say the email is a key element to keeping students focused on what’s important. Australian PE teacher Shane Stubbs sees students wearing different heart rate monitors but hasn’t seen students who engage with that data.

“I say ‘hands up if you’ve ever looked at the dashboard on the app or on that website?’” he said. “Then I ask, ‘how many of you know what it means?’ None of them do.”

The IHT ZONE’s heart rate reports clearly show what students need to focus on and teachers are available to answer questions as they come up.

“The best part about using the ZONES is the communication with the parents that it allows,” Odebolt Arthur Battle Creek Ida Grove High School (Iowa) teacher Jeff Miesner said. “The emails with the daily workout sessions are great for letting the students and the parents know what is going on in class."

Teachers receive the reports as well. The report is an essential tool for teachers to have one-on-one conversations with students about things they are doing well and things that may need some improvement.

“Kids ask me how I know what I know (about their sessions),” Stallsmith said. “Well, I get your emails. That allows much better, much more real conversations. It surprises the students that we have this data, and that’s a good thing. It starts the real conversations we need to have with kids. Once we get them consistently active, we can get into more knowledgeable conversations about the specific benefits of each activity.”

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    Heart Rate Monitors Drive Students to Work Harder to Improve Health and Fitness
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    Heart Rate Monitors Drive Students to Work Harder to Improve Health and Fitness
    Buy-in and effort levels increase when students wear heart rate monitors during health and physical education classes.
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    Interactive Health Technologies, LLC
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