Somewhere along the way in education, we've separated the brain from the body. Today students, especially those in secondary school, sit nearly all the time. When what they really need to do is get up and move.
When I was in school, we we're given many opportunities to move around. There was the twice daily recess or a gym class plus a break in the middle of the afternoon so that we could stand up and exercise to Chicken Fat. Then we’d get a drink, head to the restroom, and dive back into our studies.
“It is helpful to think of the brain as a muscle,” Dr. John Ratey recently told colleagues at a conference on “Learning and the Brain” in Boston. Dr. Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says the best way to “maximize the brain” is through exercise and movement.
The American Heart Association has devoted an entire website of ideas for promoting a healthy school environment because they know that experiential learning strategies anchor learning up to 90% better.
Now researchers are learning that strenuous exercise, like jumping rope, can prepare the brain for optimal learning. Current brain research supports the need for movement in the learning process.
Here are just a few of the ways that jumping rope may help prepare the body-brain for learning.
- Raising the heart rate gets more blood to the brain, feeding it needed nutrients and oxygen for heightened alertness and mental focus.
- Aerobic exercise grows new brain cells in rodents, and promising research suggests that may also apply to humans. In short, jumping rope is an exercise that allows both brain hemispheres to perform parallel.
- The vestibular system that creates spatial awareness and mental alertness is strengthened through activities such as jumping rope. Balance and jumping activities provide the student with a framework for reading and other academic skills.
- Rhythmic aspects of jumping rope can develop the internal dialogue needed to establish basic reading skills. Beat awareness and beat competency simulate the basic rhythm patterns of our language that need to be established for better language acquisition.
- Physical activity reduces stress. Cardiovascular exercise puts the body-brain into homeostasis, and contributes to balancing the body’s chemistry, electrical, and organ systems. And, of course, exercise can have similar benefits as some anti-depressant medications.
- Exercise also calms students and lets them pay more attention in class. Students who have less pent-up energy are calm and will be in the best possible mental state to start learning classroom material.
Jumping rope is an affordable, fun way to engage students in improved learning. In fact, the Subway and American Heart Association has developed the Jump Rope for Heart program to help students achieve high academic standards. Also, you may want to check out the JAM (Just-a-Minute) school program for more ideas to teach kids healthier lifestyles by dancing.
What do you think? Have you discovered (or rediscovered) the learning-physical activity connection? Share your successes or ideas with us!
Sources: Begley, S. “ Your Child’s Brain”, Newsweek, Feb. 19, 1996; Gage, R. and Van Pragg, H. “New Brain Cells,” Scientific American, May 1999; Hannaford, C. “Smart Moves,” Great Ocean Publishers; Brewer, C., and Campbell, D., “Rhythms of Learning.” 1999; Weikart - presented at AAHPERD Convention, Orlando, 2000; Ratey, J. “A User’s Guide to the Brain”, Pantheon Books, 2001