Our Schools, Learning, and Our Kids: The Good News
The research is out there showing how a body-brain, integrated approach to learning can make America’s public-school system a beacon for the nation, while improving the health and fitness of our schoolchildren at the same time.
Health and Fitness
- It is now believed that physical activity is a primary component of preventing cancer.
- Engagement in high levels of physical activity leads to forestalling or preventing the onset of chronic diseases, slowing the aging process, and reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
- A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for optimal child growth, maintaining a healthy weight, and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, all of which currently contribute to health care costs in the United States.
The Positive Effects of the Education-Health Integrated Relationship
- Education levels have as much or even more impact on an adult individual and on an entire family’s health than access to medical services. One of the most important things that can be done for our nation’s health is to improve education quality and educational attainment.
- The more engaged a student is in school, the healthier the student is.
The Body-Brain Connection and Learning
- Students who are physically fit and engage in regular, physical activity perform better academically than unfit students.
- Students who are physically fit and engage in regular, physical activity require less medication for attention deficit disorders and experience fewer behavioral problems.
- Brain, cognitive, and behavioral development early in life are strongly linked to health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, drug use, and depression.
- When comparing levels of engagement in six location areas—at home, out in public, at work, in academic classes, in non-academic classes, and being on school grounds—students are most engaged in their non-academic classes, such as sports.
- When comparing levels of engagement in six types of activity—school work, paid work, passive leisure, active leisure, maintenance, and other—except for maintenance and other which are incidental activities such as brushing your teeth or taking out the trash, students are most engaged in their active-leisure activities, such as sports.
- In a study of 500 Canadian students conducted by the University of Toronto, those students who spent an extra hour each day in gym class—an hour that reduced the amount of time for academics—performed notably better on exams than less active children.
- For 23 years, the now-retired Pete Saccone and his fifth-grade students went for a 45 to 50-minute run on the school grounds every morning at 8:00 a.m. to start their day at Meridian Elementary School in El Cajon, California, just east of San Diego. After each run, the students would go into the classroom to do math and writing assignments related to their running. According to the Meridian principal, Saccone’s class always had the highest test scores in the school.
- In Naperville, Illinois, just west of the greater Chicago area, the school district has implemented a program called Zero Hour PE. Every school morning at 7:10 a.m., Zero Hour students engage in intense, aerobic activities before the regular school day begins in order to better prepare their brains to learn. During one study, Zero Hour students showed a 17% improvement in reading and comprehension compared with a 10.7% improvement among other students who take standard PE classes at other times.
- Worldwide, Finland’s students perform academically at very high levels compared to students in most other countries. In addition to not being subjected to standardized-testing practices, the successes of the Finnish public schools and their students are attributable to an array of interrelated factors, including free, nutritious lunches and a great deal of play and exercise every day at school.
- Since 1989, the American Sports Institute has implemented its educational-change program Promoting Achievement in School through Sport (PASS), a year-long course for middle and high-school students that uses the positive aspects of sport culture to generate high academic achievement, high health and fitness levels, and high motivation scores. PASS has been presented to approximately 4,000 students in four states, including California, Illinois, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In a government study of the PASS program, researchers concluded: “PASS addresses the needs of the whole learner—intellectual needs, motivational needs, and other needs such as students’ physical and social needs. . . . PASS is a model for total school reform.”
- Using elements of its PASS program the American Sports Institute helped Coulterville-Greeley, a small, K-8 school near Yosemite, raise its state test scores 200 points over six years and become a California Distinguished School. One of the key findings from the state evaluation committee was the school’s “commitment to aerobics every morning (their underline) and the PASS program woven throughout their daily school lives.”
What’s Behind The Good News?
- Engaging in sustained, high levels of physical activity, especially forms of aerobic activity, makes the brain run faster and more efficiently by releasing natural chemicals in it (brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNFs) that nourish and refresh existing neurons and grow new brain cells. In turn, this affects cognition related to math, logic, reading, decision-making, multi-tasking, and planning, and it affects behavior.
- The same type of flow or engagement experience that is commonly reported during recreational and athletic activities can also promote optimal learning experiences in educational contexts.
- The positive aspects of sport culture may form the basis of new school initiatives and educational reform, including active engagement, self-paced learning, mastery-based learning, relevance, team-oriented learning, and character development.