I really, really believe that regular exercise and movement will save the planet, so I get really excited when I find a well-researched book on the topic. SPARK by John Ratey is just such a book.
If terms like dopamine and neurotransmitters scare you off, this might not be the book for you, so I’ll give you the cliff’s notes version here. For the rest of you, I HIGHLY recommend it.
The short, short version is that regular movement and exercise can:
- Improve learning
- Reduce stress
- Alleviate anxiety
- Lift depression
- Reduce attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- Aid addiction recovery
- Mitigate the effects of hormonal changes
- Slow aging
- I know that sounds like a really tall, impossible order, but the data is there. Our bodies are designed to move a heck of a lot more than most of us do today.
What Can You Do
Get up and move right before it’s time to learn something new. In the book, studies at Naperville High School consistently showed that test scores went up markedly in whatever course was immediately after PE.
For best results, don’t just go for a walk. Instead, try to make sure there is a physical learning element to whatever you are doing so the brain engages more. Instead of a walk, take less time and go shoot hoops for 10 minutes, hit a tennis ball against a wall, etc.
Be prepared to invest more time up front. So, you might need 30 minutes a day, every day, initially for alleviating anxiety, but eventually the time requirement should taper off. The need will never go away, but you might get down to a few times a week. As with everything, test it, as everyone is different.
As someone who was always picked last in gym class, the story from the book that touched me was of Naperville High School.
They completely turned the traditional PE model on its ear. They changed the entire curriculum so that there were up to 12 different activities that students could choose from — letting everyone pick an activity they could succeed at. All activities were small group activities, so everyone was participating at all times – no sitting on the bench for 39 minutes of a 40-minute class. Kids loved it, they developed confidence, found success, and academic test scores went up. Naperville HS Students also have the lowest obesity rate in the country – 3%, compared to 30% for the rest of American High Schoolers.