We know, from research, that exercise activates the attention system, increases focus, modulates mood, improves behavior, and enhances memory and learning. Increasingly, schools, and in particular special education programs, are beginning to understand the value of exercise as an intervention. Yet there is still reluctance to allow students time for exercise in the school day, a result of the underlying belief of No Child Left Behind that the more time spent on academics, the better achievement will be. It is turning out, however, that an increase of seat time, at the expense of exercise and movement, is actually working against the intent. Fortunately, the growing body of evidence is now beginning to move people’s thinking to include exercise in a student’s daily routine because it can actually enhance a student’s behavior and achievement.
A recent meta-analysis published at the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that students who participate in physical activity do better in math and reading. Data from 26 previously published studies involving more than 10,000 children between four and 13 years of age were analyzed. Importantly, they found that regular physical activity increased focus and attention for all students. To increase time on task is a precursor to improved academic performance. However, improved focus and attention are two common issues that often interfere with the ability of special education kids to be successful in school. The challenge for students in special education is there commonly exists academics gaps in learning, underlying behavioral issues, and often students with some level of attention deficits.
Exercise not only increases blood flow to the brain, bringing oxygen and nutrients for increased activity, it also causes the release of neurotransmitters and factors that support improved behavior and learning.
Exergaming is such an important part of an educator’s toolbox because the video game component capitalizes on novelty and fun to motivate kids who are reluctant to exercise to engage in physical activity. As Michelle Tine of Dartmouth found, when kids enjoy exercise, they are much more likely to engage in it. One school recently utilized exergaming as a behavioral intervention for their students in special education and found a 36% drop in office referrals, with those that did result in an office visit had less intensive infractions. This school anecdotally reported that their students were in a better mood and better able to focus as a result of their exergaming intervention.
A study by researchers in New Zealand showed that just 10 minutes of HIT (high intensity training) is enough to improve behavior and learning. A unique value of exergaming.