Although research shows that exercise activates the attention system, increases focus, modulates mood, and enhances learning, it remains an underused tool in education. When teachers and students better understand how to work with the physiology of one’s body, the educational experience is optimized. This is especially true for students with behavioral issues such as ADHD.
Our response to students with needs is supported with a strong educational philosophy and approach. For the last 20 years, education has focused on research and best practices around instructional methodology. People work that side of the house really hard. However, in their commitment to high quality instruction, time on task, and differentiation, we often miss utilizing the research that can profoundly support all of those strategies: the empirical evidence on how exercise improves cognition, behavior, and wellness. Adding that dimension to the learning process improves and expands learning for all students. Estes Park Middle School (EPMS) in Estes Park, Colorado, has done just that.
Key to how EPMS is doing this is to use an Exercise Learning Center (ELC) as an educational intervention. An ELC utilizes exergaming equipment where one must move in order to play video games. Students with behavioral issues have targeted exercise in the ELC as part of their IEPs. When they come to the ELC, they must wear a heart rate monitor to track and keep their heart rates in their target zones. A para who supervises the ELC oversees as well.
When muscle cells are stressed, a number of chemicals in the brain necessary for learning are released. In a nutshell, norepinephrine strengthens the stimuli for focus. Serotonin modulates mood and increases resilience. Dopamine increases the ability to focus. BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) actually strengthens and grows neurons necessary for learning. Students with ADHD (including what we used to call ADD) have a shortage of some of these chemicals, interfering with them being able to focus on demand for learning – especially executive functioning.
Getting students with ADHD to exercise can be challenging. Those who do participate in sports have learned to manage their ADHD. Often, however, students with ADHD lack the needed motor coordination and rules of play because they don’t pay enough attention to learn. The advantage of an ELC and incorporating exergaming is that it can motivate students who are reluctant to move to engage in physical activity and thus reap the benefits that exercise provides. Ten minutes in the target range while exergaming can make a difference.
It is important for students, with guidance from teachers, learn how to work with their unique physiology using exercise — what timing, frequency, and/or intensity works for them. This knowledge not only helps these students be more successful in school but also in life.
To learn more about how exergaming equipment can help improve your school’s curriculum, contact Motion Fitness today.