Want to have better focus? Wake up and be active!

Ever since I was a kid, I tried to start my day with some sort of physical activity. That is, until three years ago, when I finished Grad School and became a Dad. I suddenly found myself with a different schedule and different priorities. Since then, I have found that I have far less energy than I used to, and it impacted virtually every aspect of my life.  Sure, it could be that I’m getting older, getting a LOT less sleep, but, what if this change to my daily routine had something to do with it? So, as any good scientist would, I decided to test this hypothesis.  I decided that I would force myself to do what I’ve always done, even if it meant getting EVEN less sleep.  So, with my alarm set for 4:45 a.m., I began my experiment.

The first week was tough, I am not going to lie.My body ached, I was cranky, and I was ready to hit the pillow the second Iwalked in the door from work. The second week was easier, I found myselfgaining more energy and generally feeling more positive. By the third week, Ifound myself waking up a few minutes before the alarm and having more energythan I could remember in a long time. But, the most profound change I noticedwas how focused and productive I was at work. As an Exercise Physiologist, Iknow the research, exercise has positive effects on mood… exercise impactscognitive function…. blah, blah, blah. But, it wasn’t until I experienced theimpact first-hand that it hit me. What a difference starting your day withphysical activity makes!

Then I started thinking why is it that schools don’t have physical education first thing in the morning?  Wouldn’t it be great for all students to start their day full of energy and ready to concentrate? As a good Scientist, here is where I give you the “facts and figures” in Geek Speak. There is well-established research demonstrating the positive effects of exercise and physical activity in the general population with regards to overall health and disease states. However, the research on the impact of exercise in the preadolescent and adolescent population and how it affects cognitive function is in its infancy. A review of current literature suggests that improvements in cardiorespiratory function have positive effects on mood and self-esteem and is positively associated with higher academic performance.1,2 A study specifically evaluating preadolescent students suggested that aerobic capacity was positively associated with academic performance; including total academic achievement, mathematic achievement and reading achievement.3 Several studies have delved further, examining effects of physical activity in the classroom setting with evidence supporting that single acute-bouts of moderately-intense aerobic exercise (e.g. walking) increases attention and academic performance.4,5 The benefits of exercise go beyond those seen in the general population when we look at the 2e population.  Recent studies have shown that students that have ADD/ADHD perform better in the classroom throughout the day due to the release of dopamine during exercise.6 Furthermore, research has shown that a single bout of moderate exercise can increase executive functioning immediately afterwards, and with continued stimulation can have a long last effect.7 Pretty cool, huh?

So, what does that mean?  It means that motion stimulates creativity, improves student well-being, and fosters academic stamina.  To me, those results sound like the frame work of a good Mission Statement for any up and coming school, no? That’s why I firmly believe that starting every day at FlexSchool with physical activity is important to my students’ health and academic performance. I devote the first period of the day to Wellness, to allow each of my students to “rev up” or “supercharge” their brains for the day.  Whether or not everyone of my students will experience the benefits observed in the “research” is arguable. However, do I care enough about my students to give them every opportunity to thrive? ABSOLUTELY.

Jesse teaches science and physical education for FlexSchool New Haven.

References

  1. Ortega, F., Ruiz, J., Castillo, M., Sjostrom, M., Physical fitness in childhood and adolescence: a powerful marker of health. International Journal of Obesity, 2008; v32: 1–11.
  2. Singh, A., Uijtdewilligen, L., Twisk, J., van Mechelen, W., Chinapaw, M., Physical Activity and Performance at School.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(1):49-55
  3. Castelli, D., Hillman, C., Buck, S., Erwin, H., Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement in Third- and Fifth-Grade Students. JSEP, 2007; V29(2): 239-252.
  4. Hillman, C.,Pontifex, M., Raine,L., Castelli, D., Hall, E.,Kramer, A., The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience, 2009; v159(3),1044-1054.
  5. Donnelly, J., Lambourne, K., Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement. Prev Med. 2011; v2:S36-S42
  6. Guiney, H., Machado, L., Benefits of regular aerobic exercise for executive functioning in healthy populations. Psychon Bull Rev, 2013; v20:73-86.
  7. Xiang, Q., Yih Xian Ho, C., Wuen Chan, H., Zheng Jie Yong, B.,Wee-Song, W. Managing childhood and adolescent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with exercise: A systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine,2017; v20:123-128.
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