If we are focused on reaching and teaching the whole child, their physical well-being should also be considered. Obesity rates continue to climb across the world. We need to look at ways to promote movement and exercise at a young age to lay the foundation for a healthy lifestyle as they grow older. In some areas, physical education has been reduced or eliminated. As students move into higher grades, the opportunity for physical activity declines substantially; unless they participate on a sports team on or off-campus. Physical activity is important for health and teaches them important life skills such as teamwork, a positive mindset, self-esteem, character development, and important social and communication skills.
How Physical Activity Affects the Brain
Physical activity provides a stimulating influence on the whole brain and helps ensure optimal function. Research suggests that there is a connection between cognitive and motor skills. Physical movement can affect the brain’s physiology in the following ways:
- Increased blood flow – blood delivers oxygen and glucose to the brain providing energy to power brain cells to keep the brain functioning properly.
- Frontal lobe plasticity – the frontal lobe controls cognitive functions and voluntary movement.
- Production of neurotrophins – they play a crucial role in influencing the development of the brain and promote learning and memory processes.
- Growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus – the center of learning and memory in the brain.
- Neurotransmitter levels – critical for influencing everything from involuntary movements to learning and mood.
- Development of nerve connections – crucial to brain development.
- Density of the neural network – connects brain cells to form a network that influences everything from the intellectual capacity to problem solving and language.
Why Physical Activity Matters
Movement and physical activity directly impacts mental and cognitive functions. Research shows a direct correlation between student classroom experiences, behavior, and academic performance. Attention and focus are lost after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting. The oxygen essential for our body/brain becomes stale unless we breathe deeply. This sets off a whole chain of undesirable effects. The reduction in glucose and oxygen that powers the brain can lead to changes in student behavior. They may seem tired or even lazy. They can’t retain information. They’re fidgety and disengaged. Participation dwindles and some students can become disruptive and unruly.
Physical activity triggers the release of neurochemicals that support learning and memory. This also improves attention, motivation, perception, and mood. When students move, they make connections with other students and with you. These connections help create a positive environment, reducing stress and anxiety that can inhibit learning.
Physical activity plays a vital role in enhancing learning. Next week, we’ll look at ways to incorporate movement into the classroom.
Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.