Moving from a Sedentary to a Physically-Active, Societal Way of Life

UP ON OUR FEET … an ongoing series of interviews, discussions, reports, and other formats on transforming societal life everywhere by individuals and institutions adopting a less-sedentary and more physically-active way of life, especially as this relates to education, health, the environment, and the economy. (click for videos)


Steps Per Day Impacts Children’s Mental Health • Professor Celia Álvarez-Bueno, University of Castilla-La Mancha (click for video)

“We can improve our aerobic fitness (just) with steps (taken per day).”

“When children achieve at least 9,000 steps per day, their health-related quality of life is better than their peers who don’t achieve this limit. And we also have seen that children who achieve 12,000 steps per day have better health-related quality of life than those achieving 9,000 steps.”

“Other colleagues have done similar kinds of studies that show that physical activity in children improves their self-esteem and the relationships with their peers.”

“Neurologists say that changes in the brain are promoted through physical activity, and this positively impacts health-related quality of life and the promotion of relationships with peers and the improvement of self-esteem.”

“Yes, it’s very weird. Many researchers are saying that physical activity can improve cognition and can improve health-related quality of life and can improve other outcomes in children. … So it’s very difficult to understand why we continue cutting physical activity in schools.”

“It is very clear that physical activity is related to better concentration, better health-related quality of life, better working memory, and other things that are really useful for our daily living.”

“Politicians try to include so many things in the schools, and they’re not aligned with the teachers. … And so the teachers are not free to do all the things they want to do, including more physical activity. In addition, parents don’t understand how a class that includes physical activity could contribute to the knowledge of the children. So the teachers are overloaded, but are trying to include the (scientific) evidence in the classroom through activities that are effective.”

Students’ Reactions to Physical Activity Integration in the Classroom Professor Jaimie McMullen, University of Hawai’i at Manoa (click for video)

“It’s maybe not surprising in some ways that kids want to move. I come from the philosophy that most people want to move, most of us don’t want to sit around all day and be sedentary, even though our society has really kind of forced us into those types of jobs.”

“It’s not surprising to me that the kids responded positively to the movement in-and-of itself because if you give kids an opportunity to play, and even adults an opportunity to play, people want to play, they want to move and be active.”

“I also come from the philosophy that active kids do better (academically).”

“The thing that maybe surprised me the most was the connections that the students themselves made to learning with the moving.”

“When the kids were talking about ‘the boring way of learning’—and they’re talking about sitting at a desk and learning—how 99.9% of kids across the world, we sit in desks and we teach kids subjects. They kept referring to that as ‘the boring way of learning’ or ‘the normal way of learning,’ and that this (physical movement) was so much more fun.”

“Kids and humans in general, we’re not made to be sedentary for as much time as we are, and yet we continuously put kids in these desks, and you have to sit still and concentrate. There was another student who actually said that they can’t concentrate when they’re sitting still at their desk. And so, this idea that the only way students can learn and the only way they can concentrate is if they’re still and sitting and not moving and not talking to anyone was sort of really debunked by the students in this study.”

“I think that even classroom teachers don’t necessarily want kids to be sitting all day long either, yet our environments are built in that way. The traditional classroom environment does not facilitate moving. … Typically, 95% plus of the classrooms that you’re going to walk into globally, internationally, are going to have rows of desks or pods of desks, and not a lot of space for movement in classrooms. So not only have our practices not traditionally supported movement in the classroom, but the environment itself doesn’t necessarily support that type of movement either.”

“Regarding the hand drawings, we didn’t say, ‘Draw yourself happy doing these lessons.’ We just said, ‘Draw yourself doing these lessons.’ So there was no prompting to make it a positive thing. And there was not one frowning face in the whole 135 drawings that we collected.”

“One of the students refers to this as a new way of learning.”

How Physical Activity Increases Academic Performance … In Everyday Language Professor Lauren Raine, Northeastern University (click for video)

“Exercise in both the short-term and long-term—over a number of months— is beneficial for kids’ brain function and cognition. … We’ve seen that these benefits in terms of cognition and brain function actually extend all the way into the classroom in terms of their performance on academic achievement tests.”

“Short bouts of exercise—roughly 20 minutes—can help kids inhibit distractions, remember items, and perform better on math and reading performance measures.”

“If we look at the long-term effects, within nine months of a physical-activity intervention, we see improvements in the structure and the function of children’s brains, and we don’t see these same improvements with a control group who didn’t get the physical-activity intervention.”

“Physical activity is good for kids and it extends all the way down to function and all the way up to academic performance, such as math and reading tests.”

“One area of the brain that’s really important for memory is a region of the brain called the hippocampus. We’ve shown that children who are higher fit have larger hippocampi than their lower-fit peers. That suggests that if we can improve someone’s fitness, maybe we can change the structure of their MRI and might help them learn or remember items better.”

“We’ve also shown changes in hippocampal structure following a nine-month bout of physical activity. We’ve seen different changes in the hippocampus structure for the kids that were in our physical-activity intervention compared to those that weren’t. And because the hippocampus is a structure of the brain specifically that research has suggested is really important for memory, we can see in kids that if we have them do physical activity, we see benefits to that specific structure.”

“We have data that has shown that not only does physical activity impact learning and memory, but just being higher fit helps kids learn and remember better.”

“If we gave money for physical activity and physical education (in schools), you would see benefits in all sorts of academic performance for kids.”

Spinning Apes and Children, Mental Health, Learning • Professor Adriano Lameira, The University of Warwick (click for video)

Click for research article: Great Apes Reach Momentary Altered Mental States By Spinning (pdf)

“(Regarding the spinning of the great apes), we really need to start taking more seriously what may be the consequences in terms of mental health, in terms of what has been the function of these states in our evolution history, and into the origins of the human mind.”

“We think of carousels and rollercoasters as purely entertainment, but if we really look into the past, these were ways, methods that particular communities, when the faire came, this was an important event and people used this individually and socially as an opportunity to engage in a way that was accepted into these behaviors.”

“Millions of years ago, our (great ape) ancestors already had mechanisms to cope with mood, to cope with boredom, to kind of self-stimulate out of a situation where you just had to be jolted, you had to self-energize yourself again. So it’s really interesting to start thinking that if this was happening millions of years ago, then surely this factors into how the human mind kept on evolving, and it opens up a complete whole landscape of knowledge that we are yet to fully appreciate about modern human behavior.”

“When we seek substances (illicit drugs), they are hijacking natural circuitry in our biology. And so, those systems were already in place and could already be disrupted by natural means like spinning. That’s also a hack, but it’s a hack you can control. And if it’s too much for you, you just stop spinning. … We’ve relegated that need from normal society. The idea of the ‘polished’ citizen is all great, but we may be ignoring simple, biological, deeply-wired needs and drives and mechanisms that kind of need to be fulfilled. And if they are not, they’ll come out downstream by other means.”

“We often refer to ourselves as a ‘self-domesticated ape,’ so we also have that kind of ‘captivity syndrome.’ And so we need to perhaps embrace more these mechanisms that allow us in a natural way to compensate for the lack of stimulation that living in a jungle or in a savannah or in the forest would have offered us. … It’s calling back our physicality.”

“We’ve got to have an education where we also incorporate education about the inner range of experiences, the inner landscapes, as with emotions, or just simple self-awareness, balance, coordination.”

“Isn’t it curious that if you look at a playground, more than about 80% of the devices you’ll see are all devices that challenge your sense of balance and coordination. … The swings, the slides, the roundabout, the merry-go-round, the spinner poles, the seesaws—they’re all meant to disrupt your center of gravity to give you this sense of ‘rush.’”

“Autistic children will often seek spinning behaviors as a means of comfort. For example, an autistic child, when set in a swing, will often not swing but will torque the ropes and then enjoy the rotation back. And so these behaviors provide them the confidence that they can control their stimulation, they are in control. … It’s almost like a physiological sovereignty.”

“If we suspect that these are biological, advantageous behaviors, blocking them or ignoring them as societies are still doing, then we’re going to have escape behaviors, redirection toward other things that probably don’t fulfill the need so well.”

“In many cases, orphans that are sensorially deprived, they will develop spinning and rocking behaviors in an almost default mode where the body is seeking some type of stimulation as an evasion of the normal state of affairs. … This is definitely a recurring theme in our biology and cultures.”

Yoga and the Body. Yoga and the Brain • Professor Neha Gothe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (click for video)

“The research on yoga is fairly recent. … On the physical side, there is good evidence suggesting yoga can help improve balance, … There’s also some evidence for flexibility and mobility of the body, strength of the body, so to speak. … There is also some good evidence for yoga that can help with managing lower-back pain or chronic pain, and pain management.”

“Yoga is now also recognized as one of those muscle-strengthening activities by the CDC. We know there are now prescriptions and guidelines for Americans as to what and how much exercise should we be engaging in across the lifespan, and yoga is considered one of those muscle-strengthening activities.”

“Collectively, studying yoga for mental health has definitely been more popular in research. And again, it’s probably the mindfulness meditation, relaxation pieces that really draw researchers to that question as to what is it about yoga that really makes us feel calm and composed and relaxed, or very centered after a particular practice; maybe either temporarily or long-term it might help alleviate some of that anxiety that you might feel in the moment.”

“There have been studies done across the lifespan, there have been studies done with individuals who have clinical conditions for mental health, such as depression or diagnosed anxiety disorders or stress disorders, such as PTSD, and yoga has shown to improve symptoms for those individuals who exhibit clinical levels of mental-health conditions.”

(Regarding  yoga’s impact on the hippocampus and executive functions of the brain related to working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control) “Absolutely. Those are, in fact, the regions that some of the research studies highlight. … If you’re really practicing yoga the right way, you are focused mentally on your body doing the practice during the entire exercise session, and that engagement of your mind and body is what we speculate is leading to those executive-functioning, higher-order effects.”

“There is definitely evidence for yoga with improving certain inflammation markers. For example, with stress and anxiety, there have been studies looking at how yoga can lower your cortisol, … which is a strong marker of stress that our body faces. And so it’s possible that with continued yoga practice, you see lower levels of cortisol and body stress, which, in turn, helps improve our memory, executive functioning.”

The ‘WHERE’ of Physical Activity’s Positive Impact Professor David Lubans, The University of Newcastle (click for video)

“It’s probably not that surprising that the time we spend in those (natural) environments is really helpful for our health and well-being across a range of different outcomes.”

“It’s kind of natural to start thinking that maybe physical activity in natural environments is going to have the one benefit of being in nature, and then enhancing the actual benefit that you get from doing that physiological activity as well.”

“There’s now some definite systematically-reviewed and meta-analysis level evidence showing that the same dose of physical activity done in a natural environment has added mental health and some physical health benefits compared to activity done in a man-made environment.”

“Exercise and activity done in natural environments has added mental-health benefits.”

“There’s some really good epidemiological data that suggests that people who spend more time in green spaces have better physical health, they have better metabolic health.”

“I would say with a lot of confidence now that the same dose of activity done in a natural environment is going to have better mental-health benefits for someone than when done in a man-made environment.”

“(By greening the school learning environment for children), I think you’d have immediate benefits for their mood and for their general well-being. And I think that there’s enough (research evidence) to suggest that it’s actually going to contribute to better cognitive function which may, in the long term, lead to better academic outcomes.”

“Being in a natural environment helps to restore our cognitive function, helps to improve our mood, helps to improve our well-being. When young people feel better about themselves, and they’re happier and they’re healthier, it’s more conducive to learning.”

Physical Activity as a Way to Prevent and Treat Anxiety • Associate Professor Dr. Maria Åberg, University of Gothenburg (click for video)

(Is physical activity both a form of prevention as well as a treatment for anxiety?) “The short answer, is, ‘Yes.’ ”

“Physical activity and reduced sedentary behavior have a preventive effect on anxiety disorders. For example, we demonstrated in an article in Psychological Medicine in 2018, significant association between low cardiovascular fitness and a higher risk for anxiety disorders. On the opposite, high fitness was associated with a lower risk.”

“If we then proceed to treatment, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials—so-called RCTs—studying the effects of exercise suggest that exercise is an effective treatment on its own, as well combined with other therapies.”

“We carried out a blind RCT (randomized controlled trial research study) within the primary care complex. … We recruited 286 patients from primary care in Sweden. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups of exercise programs. One with moderate intensity, and one with high-intensity cardiorespiratory and resistance training. And we had one control group with standard, non-exercise treatment. The 12-week guided exercise intervention for these patients was associated with reduced symptoms of anxiety in both exercise intensity groups even though about half of the participants had lived with anxiety for more than 10 years at baseline (beginning of the study), and their anxiety symptoms were significantly elevated as a chronic condition at that time. So that was very exciting.”

“I’m happy to say that at the one-year follow-up of the 12-week guided exercise study, the anxiety scores of the intervention group remained at the lower levels. Taken together, these findings strengthen the view that supervised, individualized physical exercise represents an effective treatment and should be more frequently made available in clinical practices for people with anxiety.”

“In panic disorders, to start with, cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressant treatment have actually significantly greater effect on anxiety symptoms compared to physical activity alone. However, studies suggest that adding physical activity to individuals with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or social phobia may have greater or long-lasting effects on anxiety symptoms compared to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) alone.”

“In our RCT (randomized controlled trial research study), we found that exercise had the greatest effect among those who are already on pharmacological treatment. … I hope that we will have more specific guidelines in the future for treating anxiety disorders with exercise in combination with psychotherapy and prescriptive drugs.”

“(If physical activity positively impacts anxiety, does this mean that people who are normally physically active in their everyday life are less likely to experience anxiety than less-active people?) Yes. Regular physical activity and reduced sedentary behavior are associated with a reduced risk of developing or relapsing into anxiety symptoms.”

The Positive Combined Effect of Physical Activity and Music on Your Brain • Professor Psyche Loui, Northeastern University (click for video)

“Children who undergo musical training tend to do better in academic tests and scholarly tests, and also in neuropsychological testing. . . . We also know there are major pathways in the brain, including a pathway for language, and that pathway is strengthened by musical training.”

“Listening to music definitely impacts the brain; it impacts multiple areas of the brain. . . . When we’re listening to music that we love, that we find pleasurable, that we find rewarding, well that reward system which works with the dopaminergic system of the brain, that is highly active, engaged, and more functionally connected. So when we’re listening to music, not only are the auditory systems active, not only are the reward systems active, but these two systems are talking to each other and more connected to each other.”

“We should think of active music practicing, actually performing music, as a mild form of physical activity. It takes focus, it takes executive (brain) function, it also takes physical activity and physical movement. . . . So when you’re practicing a musical instrument for half an hour a day, that can almost be added to physical activity. And so, it’s not so surprising that there’s some additive effects. But the synergistic effect maybe comes from some additional benefits that music has or some additional parameters that music introduces to what our brains are exposed to in sounds and patterns of sounds.”

“Rhythm is a guiding principle across many different musical structures around the world, and is also a guiding principle for predictions. . . . Rhythm serves as a kind of low-hanging fruit almost for genetic researchers to look for patterns of genes that might be predictive of this rhythmic ability.”

“Much like our rhythmic patterns within musical time sequences, we also have brain rhythms. The brain is never completely still. It’s really large networks of neurons and neural populations that work together to make the different systems of neural activity work and enable cognition. And so these different large-scale neural systems are working together in rhythmic concert.”

“For children who are early-school age, getting that kind of extensive practice (of a musical instrument) where you’re really trying to focus on something for an hour a day or half an hour a day, that in itself is hugely beneficial for executive (brain) function. I think it’s because of that that children with musical instrument experience are better at executive control tasks.”

“Extending the results from physical activity and musical training on neuro and cognitive measures towards academic achievement outcome scores, we’re also seeing that the combined effects of both physical activity and musical training seem to have synergistic effects on neurocognitive outcomes that also then translate to academic achievement scores. But it’s not totally case-closed yet.”

Evolution and Why Exercise Is Essential, Not Optional • Professor Herman Pontzer, Duke University (click for video)

“As we add exercise to our lives, increase physical activity, we’re not going to change the number of calories we burn, we’re not going to change the work that our bodies do in terms of calories spent per day. Instead, we’re going to spend our calories differently.”

“Exercise doesn’t change the calories spent per day as it does how we spend those calories.”

“When we look at people who exercise a lot and people who don’t, those who exercise regularly have less inflammation. And inflammation is your immune system being overactive.”

“People who exercise more have a dampened stress response. They don’t have as big of a response (to stress) and they come back to the baseline more quickly. So it helps your stress levels if you exercise more.”

“Men who exercise are at less risk of prostate cancer. Women who exercise are at less risk of breast cancer.”

“Exercise gets everywhere and affects every organ in our body. It affects how our brains work; it affects our mood. It affects every aspect of our health. So exercise is absolutely essential if we want to optimize our health.”

“Throughout our evolutionary history, exercise wouldn’t have been an option. It would have been just a part of our daily lives. Our bodies are still running the same way; we haven’t changed the way our bodies work. Exercise still needs to be an essential part of our everyday lives. But the changes now in our industrialized world that we all live in means that we have to make the choice, the conscious choice to exercise. Whereas before, it was just part of the fabric of daily life. Now we have to actually go and make time for it. But it’s just as essential as it was before (tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago). The question now is, ‘Are we going to choose to do it, do this important thing for our health?’”

(Looking at physical activity and exercise, looking at diet, in a sense, are the metabolic, chronic, and cognitive disorders really not problems in-and-of-themselves, but rather, symptoms of a problem?) “I think that’s right. I think we can think about it that way that’s helpful. . . . A lot of these diseases of civilization are symptoms of this move away from these elements of traditional lifestyle that are so important for health.”

(Regarding physical activity and diet in our schools), “I think we could do a whole lot better with the way that we organize the school day for our kids. . . . The more that we can engineer and design movement into the day helps. So I’d like to see more of that. ”

Diet: How the Body and Brain Are Integrated • Professor Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, University of California, Los Angeles (click for video)

“Foods that are good for the brain have a high-nutrient capacity and, at the same time, a low-caloric content. Too many calories are bad for both the body and the brain.”

“We have learned in the last few years that the combination of exercise and food is very important because exercise works as a modulator for the action of foods in terms of burning excessive calories and in terms of the molecular mechanisms in the brain. Somehow, they are complementary. Some of the molecular mechanisms activated by exercise can act synergistically to the action of foods. And exercise may reduce some of the deleterious effect of certain (unhealthy) foods. . . . So you see, everything is connected, and I think that’s the most interesting thing to keep in mind.”

“Some of the same pathways activated by exercise in the brain are also activated by certain foods. And several of these pathways have a lot to do with synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity and synaptic activity are perhaps among the most relevant processes in the brain because these are the basis for intellectual function, including cognition and emotions.”

“A high consumption of fructose (a sugar) for weeks or months can be deleterious for the brain by reducing the functionality of these (brain) molecular mechanisms related to synaptic plasticity, and can elevate levels of oxidative stress in the brain and promote inflammation in the brain. And this is the basic process for many disorders in the brain.”

“One of the main symptoms that people experience when they eat unhealthy foods is depression, and other types of psychological and psychiatric disorders.”

“Any oncologist (cancer specialist) can tell you that a main risk factor for cancer is diet, and also psychology. When people (who have cancer) give up, when people get depressed, when people just don’t want to continue fighting, it’s because of the same process. . . . When we start thinking about the effect of food or physical activity, they are very important when we need them most; for example, when people have cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.”

Physical Activity: How the Body and Brain Are Integrated • Professor Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, University of California, Los Angeles (click for video)

“Walking (and exercise in general) actually generates a whole communication between the body and the brain because we have a lot of activity that is affecting muscles and the whole periphery, and, at the same time, the brain is capturing a lot of this activity and working by generating thoughts and a lot of issues related to the pleasure of walking. And then, the brain produces factors and molecules that go to the body, and the body answers.”

“People don’t realize it, but too much (physical) inactivity can do very bad things to our minds in terms of feeling the pressure of so many emotions that they come to haunt us.”

“What exercise does is to bring an energy supply (from food) and oxygen to many brain regions which is extremely important for the dynamics and maintenance of these regions.”

“There is the principle of ‘use it or lose it’ that applies to many things, including the action of exercise. So if we don’t use this cardiovascular system, if we are not using our arteries, many of these can collapse. So people who have been sedentary for a long time may have fewer arteries in their muscles and other tissues because they ‘lose it since they don’t use it.’ The same thing happens to the brain and other regions. So the more exercise we do, the better.”

“Our body was built to exercise. And if we don’t do that, we pay for it because we are violating our own evolutionary makeup that made our body in that way.”

“Exercise also works with other environmental factors like happiness. The science of happiness also exists in terms of how exercise can be combined with all of this to have good thoughts and a life-style that can be positive in many different ways.”

“In the human body, there is a whole integration and a continuum where every cell is connected to other cells and other tissues. And that’s extremely important because, theoretically, what happens to one part of the body, in those terms, will be affecting other parts of the body because the body is one unit. . . . Everything works together. And it’s so beautiful in the sense of how the brain communicates with the body, with practically every organ and every tissue. . . . And we are born this way.”

The Positive Effect of Physical Activity on Preventing and Treating Depression • Professor Philip Holmes, University of Georgia (click for video)

“We do know that a really good, structured exercise program is as effective (for treating depression) as pharmacotherapy (prescriptive drugs).”

“We found in our lab that it doesn’t take  a whole lot of exercise to increase the expression of trophic factors (molecules that enhance the brain’s function and a person’s mood). … What that tells us is that even a little bit of exercise is good (for preventing and treating depression) because it will increase trophic factors. So that will be beneficial. … So that tells me that the exercise does not need to be very intense. It’s not as if we need to go into training to get these benefits. We can get these benefits with relatively low levels of (physical) activity.”

“In terms of treating depression, you really need to be thinking about the more long-term changes that are happening over the course of days to weeks, how it’s changing the patterns of gene expression, and then maintaining those levels of gene expression to maintain these protective effects of the trophic factors.”

“Yeah, and that’s really the big challenge for the whole field, is figuring out what is the best strategy to change behavior and attitudes about exercise (to get people to adopt a more physically-active lifestyle and use physical activity as a way to prevent and treat depression).”

“People know that exercise can literally change the way the brain works. And it does so by protecting these critical circuits in the brain that are essential for normal, positive mood. … That change in the lifestyle, and just being more active, so all the basic things that we’re told about increasing physical activity in general—using the stairs, walking when you can to the store or post office—these kinds of little things can add up and have a significant benefit because that’s the way the brain wants to work.”

“The brain evolved to expect a relatively high level of (physical) activity. The brain didn’t evolve for us to be sitting at our desks, staring at a screen.”

“Not only are you exercising the rest of your body (when being physically active), but you are literally exercising these critical circuits in the brain when you perform these relatively simple tasks. Again, it doesn’t have to be a marathon; even walking around the block is activating these brain circuits, and that’s how the brain evolved.”

“And you think about the human condition now, just a few generations ago, people were much more active than they are now. So I think we’re doing a big social experiment where we’re looking at the impact of sedentary lifestyles over the last few generations on health in general, but mental health as well.”

Physical Activity Greatly Reduces the Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease • Professor Laura Middleton, University of Waterloo (click for video)

“Any vascular risk factor like hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Physical activity is a protective factor (for Alzheimer’s disease). Healthy eating is associated with reduced risk, and particularly the Mediterranean diet or closely related diets.”

“They estimate that modifiable risk factors may account for about 40% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease. But if we could correct all these (lifestyle) risk factors, we could actually decrease the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease by that much.”

“Whereas countries like Canada and the US are going to see a doubling (over the next 30 years in the projected rates of dementia), those developing countries are expected to see a tripling in the rates of dementia over the same time period. … This is happening all over the world.”

“Those people (in the study conducted) who are in the highest third of physical-activity levels actually had a 90% lower risk of having cognitive impairment a few years down the road.”

“What we know now is that physical activity also influences the structure of the neural tissue in your brain; so the neurons (brain cells), the actual connective tissue that conducts information. So it (physical activity) both contributes to the repair of neurons where there’s damage, and can also contribute to the growth of new neurons and new connections between neurons.”

“We think of the brain as a thinking organ, right? But a huge portion of the brain is dedicated toward movement. … When you move, you’re stimulating your brain.”

“I absolutely agree that in modern society, we’ve gotten toward this very sedentary activity, and that has consequences for our body, but certainly for our brain as well. Both for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as for mental health, and mood and anxiety.”

“The brain influences movement, and the movement influences the brain. They can’t and don’t exist independently. They are inherently connected.”

“I would say the simple message is that if you want to improve your brain health and function, including risk of dementia and well-being, take up physical activity as early as possible and stay physically active right through even if you’re diagnosed with dementia because physical activity, the earlier you start, the better it is.”

“And that is inherently the challenge (people changing their behavior to become more physically active), isn’t it. Because most people know physical activity is good for them. … In the end, behavior change becomes the fundamental challenge.”

The Social and Economic Implications of Physical Activity and Today’s Youth: Needs and Challenges in Schools and Societies • Emeritus Professor Jouni Välijärvi, University of Jyväskylä (click for video)

“If we don’t do anything (regarding the physical well-being of children and youth), we’ll see more and more problems with the health of young people, more and more diseases like diabetes. But what was still more important for me was that, at that time, there were findings that cognitive development and the cognitive level of students and their physical activity are correlated. So it seems that physical activity is also important for cognitive skills at the individual level.”

“The main challenge is that the roots of many diseases in adulthood come from childhood. So if we don’t do anything during childhood development, the risks that are based on too little physical activity become a reality in adulthood. And when people are at a later age, when they’re 20, 25, or older, then it’s too late to make changes in their behavior. This is the basic reason why we have a growing number of diseases in countries like Finland and other European countries. It’s at the school age, and school is actually the only place where all children are, and that’s why it’s very important to have active schools for all students so we can change the behavior of the whole cohort.”

“There’s a correlation between academic achievement and physical activity.”

“On a political level, we need more activities to convince policymakers that mathematics and science and language skills are not the only ones (subjects that are important). In the long run, they may not be the most important (subjects to be taught in schools, but rather,) the well-being of students.”

“I am quite convinced that physical activity is becoming one of the keys in this discussion because we see what happens at quite an early age if students are not physically active; diseases are becoming more typical and earlier. Economists understand that this is also becoming very expensive.”

“These are integrated to each other (the physical, academic, and social-emotional aspects of students). If we don’t take care of all parts (of the student) at the same time or try to focus too much on some part, it means that we are trying to divide the personality in a way that is not very natural.”

Very Concerning: The Status of Physical Activity Among the World’s Children and Youth • Dr. Salomé Aubert, Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance (click for video)

“What we know is that so far, the situation is bad in terms of physical activity of the children and adolescents at the international level. The majority of children and adolescents are not getting their one hour of physical activity per day, on average, and this is bad. Something needs to be done to improve this situation.”

“This is something that we’ve known for a while, that this situation is bad and we need to measure change or we can anticipate a big cost in terms of health, direct and indirect costs if the situation is not improved. And it was already estimated 10 years ago that the situation was bad, and here we are 10 years later and the situation is worse.”

“What is needed to finally reach the change that is needed is that we need a big, global cultural shift where an active society is the norm. This is the change that needs to happen, and we need to live in a society where the active choice is the best choice. The people and institutions who have the power to implement the change that is needed need to be convinced that doing this change will have a direct, rapid, positive impact for them economically and in other aspects.”

Running Program and 23 Consecutive Years of the Highest Academic Test Scores in the School Retired Teacher Pete Saccone, Meridian Elementary School (click for video)

“I just knew that I could use the (outdoor) running in the classroom in mathematics, social studies, you name it. … I was able to integrate it (running) into all areas of the curriculum, and that’s where fitness and academics came in.”

“As the years went on, I was able to say (to the new superintendents and principals), ‘They (my fifth-grade students) will do well academically. I can only tell you that every year I’ve been here (23 consecutive), these kids have had the greatest (highest in the school) test scores. They’re very successful, they don’t get into trouble, they like each other.’”

“It was amazing how their (students with behavioral issues) self-esteem just grew. They became confident. They made more friends because they could do something now that a lot of kids could never do. … They became better academically, and behavior-wise, some of them went from night to day because they said, all of a sudden, ‘I’m good at something.’”

Vanguard Finland: Integrating Physical Activity into Finnish Schools and Academic Classrooms • Professor Arja Sääkslahti, University of Jyväskylä (click for video)

“Physical activity supports motivation, it supports logical thinking. It also supports emotions, how we learn things by using the whole body, and how we learn through sensory stimulation. And physical activity offers and means this all.”

“In Finland, (at the primary level) our lessons are 45 minutes, which means that every hour has a 15-minute break when children go outdoors … After this kind of refreshment, they go back to the classroom and are ready to concentrate for the next lesson. … Classroom teachers are also encouraged to use ‘brain breaks’ after 20 minutes when they have some (physical) activities that help the children concentrate.”

“Genetically, we are built, created that we need to use our body muscles and have heartbeats, and breathe strongly, and use our senses to learn things and do things. So it’s part of our wellbeing. We need this kind of (physical) stimulation to be happy and to learn things.”

“There could be some engineers and IT officers who blame something else, but sorry, it’s not true.”

(What I’ve learned from all my years of work:) “This might sound quite simple, or maybe even too simple, but it’s ‘Go out to play.’ It’s a strong message and it’s possible for everyone, but it’s so important. It’s supporting the total amount of physical activity on a daily basis, it supports your cognitive aspects, it keeps you well, your social wellbeing, healthy body. So it’s simple, but it’s the main thing, an easy thing, and equal for everyone.”

Physical Activity in Finland: Schools and Society, Strengths and Concerns, Today and Tomorrow Professor Timo Jaakkola, University of Jyväskylä (click for video)

“The fact is that it’s (physical activity) also decreasing in Finland. There are more and more youth who are not properly physically active.”

“Fifteen, 20 years ago, we (Finland) were in the top three in all those subjects (international test-score rankings in math, reading, and science), but now we are, I think, between 10 and 20. So we are decreasing every time they conduct the PISA (international test-score rankings) survey. … So I guess that one reason in Finland is that our schoolchildren are not physically active; they are too inactive.”

“I think life is too easy nowadays. Parents are driving their kids to school. That was not the case a couple of decades ago. They always went to school by muscle power. And they just have too much competition in their leisure time … with screens and different passive habits.”

“Yeah, that’s very sad (that adults have created the very life-styles for children that are at odds with the human genome).”

“In the future, we need to find ways to influence those lowest fitness-level, lowest skill-level kids (to be more physically active). We just need to do that. It’s our obligatory task as adults and academics. So, it will cause a lot of health problems for those kids, and a lot of money lost to society. So it will be a very big problem. We don’t understand it now how big a problem it will be after 10 years, 20 years. So I think the big message can be that we need to really find ways to influence those inactive kids.”

Physical Activity, Cognition, and Academic Achievement Professor Charles Hillman, Northeastern University (click for video)

“The human genome was developed in concert with movement and is dependent upon movement. And so, from a metabolic perspective, we’re at a mismatch between our human genome and how we live our lives.”

“What we’re looking at here, in my view, is a species, and in this case children of that species, that are not adequately physically active, for the most part. And so, what we’re talking about is maybe less optimal cognitive performance from where we could be. And so, when we introduce physical activity into their world, we’re able to benefit their cognitive functions and, ultimately, their academic performance.”

“Time and again, we’ve shown that a single dose of physical activity benefits math and reading achievement within the hour following the cessation of the dose.”

“Look, I’m not a pedagogist; I’m not an expert in schools and education. But from my perspective, it’s time to update our school curriculum. And in my view, if I were an administrator of a school and genuinely interested in getting the best performance out of my students, there’d be time for physical activity and probably music and the arts every day because I know there’s benefit to music as well on brain and cognition, and what have you.”