By Dan Lawler, PhD and Bev Bachman, MEd
Most students spend hours a day sitting at a desk at school. The science shows that this lack of physical activity not only affects their wellness, but inhibits their academic growth as well. Unfortunately, when they fail to conform quietly to this low-energy environment, we over-diagnose and even punish kids for reacting the way that they are naturally built to react. Most students function better when their days are balanced with moderate to vigorous physical activity. This is important for all kids but especially for boys. Studies conducted by the University of Eastern Finland found that the more time kids spent sitting and the less time spent with moderate to vigorous physical activity, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two years following [the study].
Considering the abundant research showing the connection between exercise and behavior as well as achievement, one wonders what keeps schools from integrating adequate physical activity into the day. One of the big reasons is that educators feel pressured to meet all high academic standards. With good intentions, they try to utilize every moment for academic instruction. Unfortunately, that internal and external pressure prevents them from taking into account the value of daily, integrated physical activity and its ability to enhance the behavioral and academic achievement that they seek.
There are a few signs of hope. A middle school in Estes Park, Colorado, has made it a priority that students receive an adequate amount of physical activity to support their academic success. Several years ago, the school installed an Exercise Learning Center (ELC) as an educational intervention.
“The Estes Park Middle School has utilized the Exercise Learning Center for the last five years. It has developed over that time as an integral component of our educational programming at Estes Park Middle School. Students are able to access the Exercise Learning Center throughout the day to increase their heart rate and activate the chemicals in their bodies to better prepare them for learning. The ELC has been very impactful with our students on Individual Learning Plans (IEPs) and is built in as part of their specialized learning programing. It also allows for brain breaks and active stimulation for all students and is used throughout the day to ready them to learn. We have felt that the benefit to all students is important enough to provide ELC staffing and support for the teachers throughout the day. It is also a great way for students and teachers to build relationships and exercise together. The ELC is no longer used as something we can use in isolation but is integrated as a component instructional program.”
Estes Park School District
Estes Park, Colorado
There has been ongoing financial and philosophical support for the ELC by the community, school board, superintendent, principals, faculty, and students because leadership has helped them to understand the research and the fundamental value that movement and exercise can play in the overall educational experience. Since its inception, it has been used in a variety of ways including as a reward for improvement in achievement, attendance, etc.
An ELC utilizes exergaming equipment where one must move to play video games. One of the reasons that the ELC is so successful is the high level of motivation that is inherent in the video game part of the exergaming equipment. This is particularly valuable in getting students who are usually inactive to engage in the physical activity. Even after five years of use, students are still eager to participate.
The evidence is clear that physical activity enhances behavior and achievement as well as wellness. Exercise doesn’t need to heavily impinge on the time needed for academic programming. An ELC is a quick and easy way to reap the benefits that exercise can provide. More and more research is showing that short bursts of exercise can provide those benefits. In fact, when little time is available, even 10 minutes or so of moderate to high intensity physical activity can make upcoming instruction more productive. Given the research findings, will schools respond to the need for students to move to better achieve?
More information on this topic can be found elsewhere on this Exergame Fitness website as well as the Finnish and other studies on Exercise 4 Learning’s website, www.exercise4learning.com.