An Article, a Book and a Conversation

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"Those who think they have no time for exercise will eventually have to make time for illness" ~ Edward Stanley

 

It's amazing how the universe points things out to you. A couple of weeks ago I read an article in my local newspaper about a unique high school course that is combining math and physical education during the first period of the day. You can read the article here. Initial results have been very promising and it is gaining some momentum. I love the fact that we are trying something innovative in our district to help students with mathematics. This article caught my attention for 2 reasons outside of being innovative. The school in the article is my former high school and I have an undergraduate degree in Movement Sciences, so I have a keen interest in athletics. 

A few days after reading the article I went to my local Chapters bookstore to buy a book I'd read about in blog about the Lego company. As I made my way out of the store a book caught my eye. It was called Spark - The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.  I flipped to the back cover and discovered that it was a book about the impact exercise can have on learning. I took a picture of it with my phone and made a note to buy it next time I was in Chapters. This book was right up my alley! I just need more hours in the day to read everything I want to!

Then then the trifecta hit during a conversation with my principal a few days later. We were discussing the gym scheduling issues we were anticipating for next year with the additional classes were going to have when I told her about the article I'd read in the newspaper and the book I saw at Chapters. She jumped out of her chair, went to her bookcase and pulled out a book and said "Is this the book?" Sure enough it was. In that moment I decided that there were just too many connections put before me to delay reading Spark, and I'm so glad I've read it.

I won't give away the entire book but if you have any interest in exercise, sports, or innovative learning strategies I can't recommend Spark highly enough. The author John J. Ratey provides vignettes and case studies of new research that proves that exercise is the best defence against many disorders such as ADHD and Alzheimer's. Exercise also helps to exercise the brain, as it works just like a muscle. And all this research and discovery started with a "spark" at Napperville Central High School, just outside of Chicago, and their Zero Hour PE Class. This unique program teaches physical fitness instead of sports and has transformed the 9,000 students into the fittest in the nation and some of the smartest. Yes Spark speaks to the benefits of exercise and learning for students but it also outlines the overall health benefits for adults as well. Research demonstrates how exercise can help support people with panic disorders, depression and even menopause. It was when I read about panic attacks that Spark really hit home with me. After graduating university I stopped playing sports and going to the gym and got a job. I started to have panic attacks. Some so severe that I didn't leave the house or drive anywhere for days. I didn't make the connection then between not exercising and having panic attacks. My doctor put me on Zoloft and it worked, but not entirely. I wasn't the same person. It wasn't until I started practicing yoga and meditation that I truly felt back to my normal self and was able to stop taking Zoloft.   

I've always believed that exercise and fitness have a strong connection to learning. I experienced it first hand during my high school and university athletics. I can honestly say that I'm not entirely convinced that I would have gone onto post secondary education without having sports in my life. It gave me energy to get through those 75 minute classes that I look back on and wonder how I did it. Now I realize how. Being active. As a classroom teacher I used many brain breaks for my students where together we would take 10 or 15 minutes to re-energize ourselves. My physical education classes were never based on sports. They were fitness based. Relays and running games were followed by yoga and skill work, all with a foundation of movement. It worked for me as a student, so I knew it was the best for kids.

If you have a chance to read Spark, you will be amazed at what research is uncovering. In these financial times where there are cuts in funding we need to advocate strongly for daily physical education. This book clearly shows that we can help students succeed if we provide daily PE for all students.

What are your thoughts? Have you had experiences similar to mine? I'd love to hear what you think?

 

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  • Hi David: Thanks for reminding me about the Spark book. It was on a to-read list of mine that I have since lost; however, I plan to pick it up. One of the students in the class you mentioned trains in my son's soccer academy and he really likes the phys. ed./math combo. Personally, when I don't make time to exercise, all aspects of my life are negatively impacted. I have been working out either at school or at the gym about 3 days per week since the beginning of January and I feel much better as a result. I have more energy, patience and my overall mood is much better. Like you, I struggle to find the time to read of these great books, but I'm going to grab this one for sure. I just tried yoga for the first time last week and plan to do it more often. I have struggled with anxiety for the past few years and suspect that yoga might be a key to reducing that type of stress.

  • David

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. That's great that you are seeing the personal benefits of exercise. I'm sure that if you continue and add some yoga to your routine you will realize even more benefits, especially stress reduction. Now if we could just get the Ministry of Education to acknowledge this topic is essential for students.

    Good luck!
    David

  • Sean

    Hi David,

    I'm wondering where you would recommend doing yoga and meditation? I live just outside of London but would be willing to drive into London for the right experience. Your help is much appreciated.

    Sean