Picture this - You’ve had a busy day and are hungry. You know your body needs a quality meal. You have a few options on how to get to your favorite dining spot. You can walk, run, ride your bike, or get in your car and drive. Obviously, walking will take the longest, you will be more hungry and more worn down by the time you get to the restaurant. Driving gets you there faster which affords you the blessing of getting that delicious and nourishing meal more quickly.
Your brain works much the same way. In order to function optimally, your brain needs glucose (sugar) and oxygen. The only way to get those to your brain is through your blood. Blood circulates through your body thanks to our wonderful heart. When you sit around for long periods of time, your heart is at its resting rate, meaning your blood is circulating at a slower pace. When you get up and move, your heart beats faster causing your blood to circulate faster, which allows more glucose and oxygen to get to your brain.
Think about what a traditional learning environment looks like. Here is what I remember -
Kids are sitting at desks listening.
Raising their hand to answer a question or participate in the discussion.
‘Focusing’ on busywork.
Now think about how a student’s brain in that specific classroom is working -
The brain is working really hard to listen, process, write and learn.
That brain is not working at the highest capacity because of all the sitting.
The heart is at a resting rate which means the blood is not getting the nutrients to the brain fast enough.
Think now about what an optimal learning environment would look like -
Students would begin class with some sort of movement to get the heart rate up and the blood flowing…jumping jacks, skipping, stepping up and down on their chairs, turning around in circles, dancing around the class to some music.
Instead of raising their hand to answer a question, students would stand up to indicate to the teacher they know the answer or want to speak.
When called on, they step up on their chair to respond.
At some point during class, another movement break happens to get that blood flowing again.
“Physical activity is cognitive candy!” states Dr. John Medina. Exercise increases the amount of BDNF, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, in your brain. This is the equivalent of Miracle Grow for your brain! It keeps neurons young and healthy and encourages the formation of new cells in your brain.¹
Let’s get our kids off the couch! Let’s put the video games and iPads away! Let’s get our kids off of social media! Let’s go outside and play! Let’s go to the gym and shoot some hoops or throw a ball! Let’s go for a bike ride or walk! Our kids need exercise! They need it not only for their physical well-being but also for their cognitive well-being!
¹ MMedina, John. “Brain Rule #1: Exercise Boosts Brain Power.” Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School, Pear Press, Seattle, 2014.