Educators educating Educators

Jan 19



“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.” ~ Plato


Update June 23, 2017


Exercise dana Foundation award


Watch Video


Update May 15, 2017

How Exercise Keeps Your DNA Young


Exercise protects the telomeres which control aging and found that just moderate-intensity physical activity helps hold back cell aging.



How Exercise Beefs Up the Brain


Exercise is responsible for “increased levels of a crucial protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is essential for maintaining healthy neurons and creating new ones.”



The Best Exercise for Aging Muscles


Exercise “increases in the number and health of their mitochondria,” which produce energy for cells®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0



The Four Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention


Update May 25, 2016

Three additional sources of information proving exercise improves health and learning


The Atlantic:  Exercise is ADHD Medication:  Influential article examining the benefical aspects of exercise



Two brain: One 20 minutes after exercise


Two brains: One Exercise, the other no exercise




Update February 2013

You Tube video (16:47): Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark, discusses the relationship between exercise and learning


John Ratey TV interview


We all know that exercise makes us feel better, but most of us have no idea why. We assume it’s because we’re burning off stress or reducing muscle tension or boosting endorphins, and we leave it at that. But the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best.

Discover the research that supports exercise for optimal brain functioning for students, stress, ADHD, anxiety, depression, addiction, age-related memory lost, obesity, and PTSD & resilience.

Visit John Ratey website focused on his outstanding book Spark

Spark Book

Teaching Suggestions


1. Use Time In instead of Time Out

In classrooms past and present, students are often sentenced to Time Out for behavior issues. I refer to Time Out as the practice of requiring students to sit in a corner of the classroom or in the hallways to ponder their blunder, and after a certain time, return repentant and ready to resume and engage in class.

But how effective is Time Out? From my recollection of school, not very effective because it seemed the same students were always sent to Time Out?

Instead, let’s try something from an exercise point-of-view. Students who misbehave will be required to complete Time In as an alternative to Time Out. What is Time In? Any form of aerobic exercise will do the trick such as pedaling a stationary bike or some other type of intense aerobic exercise for a required time.

The past belief was that cardiovascular exercise at recess was effective because it tired children tired by burning energy and, therefore, students where ready to work upon returning to the classroom. I concede that Time In does the same thing, but for reasons other than being tired.

New research has concluded that exercise is medicine for the brain because when you are exercising, you are really changing the brain’s chemistry. A child regains behavioral control and focus because aerobic exercise causes an increase in dopamine (reward, movement, satisfaction, and attention), serotonin (mood, impulsivity, aggression, and anger), and norepinephrine (attention, motivation, and arousal), the brain neurotransmitters that prescribed medications are designed to promote. After physical exertion, the prefrontal cortex, the CEO or the Executive Control Center of the brain, can regain control and inhibit and/or stop out-of-control behavior. Moreover, we have taught the child (granted after many repeated attempts) a tactic to control their behavior - if they choose to utilize it or remember to use it.

2. Use an exercise ball in class as student's chairs

A child’s movement on the exercise ball gains the attention of the cerebellum and activates it since it coordinates motor movement throughout the body.

It now appears that the cerebellum not only coordinates motor movements but also coordinates thoughts, attention, emotions, and even social skills. In his book Spark, John Ratey, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, points out that there is ”a strong relationship between movement and attention. They share overlapping pathways, which is probably why activities like martial arts work well” for children with AD/HD because “they have to pay attention while learning new movements which engages both systems.” Additionally, Ratey notes “pharmacological studies have shown that AD/HD drugs help normalize the activity of the cerebellum, as well as the corpus striatum, so it’s clear these areas are important to attention as well as movement.”

Researchers have known that most children with dyslexia perform worse on tests of cerebellar functions. Ratey refers to the cerebellum as the “rhythm and blues section of the brain” because it keeps all sections of the brain in harmony and balance.

Exercise Balls

3. Conduct math instruction after recess

A 2007 study reports that children who play vigorously for 20 to 40 minutes a day are better able to learn math, organize schoolwork, and do class projects. “Children who are not active may be at a disadvantage academically,” says Catherine Davis, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia. The results showed the experimental exercise group had significant improvement on an executive-function test compared with the other group. They increased about 4 points on a cognitive-performance scale. Additionally, there was a small improvement in math achievement but no signs of improvement in reading and those in the exercise groups lost 1% to 2% of body fat.

The study also performed brain scans and found that the children who were exercising appeared to have more neural activity in the frontal areas of their brains, an important area for executive function. Davis says, “The animal literature tells us that exercise, particularly regular exercise, stimulates the growth of blood vessels and neurons in the brain, so we think the same may be happening in children.”

Says Darla Castelli, Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois: “This research corroborates several of our studies, which have also examined executive function in kids. We found strong associations between math performance and aerobic fitness among elementary-school age children.”

4. Keep students fit

In the one of the largest on-going studies correlating fitness and cognitive performance, the California Department of Education state-mandated physical assessment FitnessGram has consistently shown over a ten year period that fit children score twice as well on academic tests as their unfit peers.

The study has assessed over one million students, which correlates data from the FitnessGram and the California Standards Tests (CSTs). The FitnessGram is the designated test in California to determine a student’s level of physical fitness and the CST scores are measures of academic achievement in English, math, social studies, and science. The CSTs are administered in the spring to students in the second grade through the eleventh grade in California public schools.

The results also show that within the lower-income student group, fitter kids scored better than unfit kids. Although lower income parents may not have immediate control over their financial circumstances, they can improve their children’s chances of academic success by promoting fitness.

Furthermore, in 2004 thirteen researchers conducted a massive review of more than 850 studies about the effect of physical exercise on school-age children. Ratey explains in Spark that the study measured the effect of 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3 to 5 times per week. Their results issued recommendations that school children “should participate in one hour or more of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. They also reported that physical activity has a positive influence on memory, concentration, and classroom behavior.”

CST scale scores CA Fitnes vs. Academic

Overall PTE Score

2001 CA Fitness chart

5. Yet Again – A Study Shows Fit Kids Make Better Grades: September 4, 2012

In a recent study conducted by the University of North Texas in Denton, the brain boosting benefits of exercise were demonstrated again. The study found that physically fit middle school students scored higher on standardized tests measuring reading and math abilities with the average score increasing in direct correlation with levels of fitness. The results of the study were presented at the August 2012 meeting of the American Psychological Association in Orlando Florida.

“The more physically fit kids were, the higher their scores,” said the study lead author, Trent Petrie, director of the Center for Sports Psychology at the Texas university. “Parents should encourage their kids to be physically active. There are some real cognitive and academic benefits that come from physical fitness,” said Petrie.

“Physical fitness may make you feel better, give you more confidence and improve your performance across the board, opines Becky Hashim, an attending clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Montefiore in New York City. Petrie agrees, writing, “Physically fit kids are happier, have higher self-esteem, tend to have better relationships, and now we’re beginning to see, there also seem to be benefits cognitively and academically. Our study sends a strong warning to policymakers to reconsider the utility of physical education classes for kids.”


6. Exercise Increased Rates of Math, Reading, Logic, & Executive Functioning

Charles Hillman, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champion studied 239 third and fifth-grade PE students from four elementary schools, exercise sped up not just executive functioning, but a broad variety of skills ranging from math to logic to reading, all involving numerous brain areas. The findings, published in the Journal of Sports & Exercise Psychology (2007), show that children who got good marks on two measures of fitness – those that measure aerobic fitness and body-mass index – tended also to have higher scores on state exams in reading and mathematics. That relationship also held true regardless of children’s gender or socioeconomic differences.


7. Exercise and the Timing of Play Matters

Plato not only recognized the importance of the interaction of the “mind-body connection” but also laid the groundwork for the use of the term “scholar-athlete” which is now widely used by the NCAA and a term that would of made much sense to the ancient Greeks.

Olga Jarrett, associate professor of Early Childhood Education at Georgia State University, has found that “recess helps children stay physically fit and mentally on-task while in the classroom.” She monitored the behaviors of one class of students, comparing their behaviors at the same time each day over the course of several months. There was only one variable. Some days the students had recess before the class started, while other days they had already been working for a few hours.

The result is no great surprise to those of us who know children well. Physical activity is good for body and brain alike.

Jarrett found that recess helped students keep their minds on-task. “On the days the students had recess before class, the children were more focused and less fidgety,” explained Jarrett. “Following a recess break, the children were more likely to be doing what they were supposed to be doing.”

Why does this happen? Now, however, armed with brain-scanning tools and sophisticated understanding of biochemistry, researchers are realizing that the mental effects of exercise are far more profound than they once thought. As often seems the case, modern analytical methods have proved the intuitive advice of one of the early Greek philosophers was correct. Plato had it right when he wrote some 2,400 years ago, “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

While the research shows that it’s critical for children to play, Jarrett stresses that the positive impact of recess can be maximized – if only schools would get the timing right.

The problem is that many schools schedule recess before or after lunch, or as the last class of the day. Jarrett says, “Those aren’t the best times, because both lunch and recess should be used to form breaks in the day.”

Think about it: For a working adult, that’s like scheduling one 15-minute coffee break immediately before lunch and the second 15 minutes before you are scheduled to go home.

8. Fitness buffs appear to have “younger” DNA

A study published January 29, 2008 in the Archives of Internal Medicine by researchers has shown that people who exercise more appear to be biologically younger than their more sedentary counterparts. The study found the heavy exercisers had relatively long telomeres (caps on chromosomes) – comparable to those of couch potatoes 10 years younger. The researchers defined the heavy exercises as those who put in more than 3 hours a week running, cycling, lifting weights, or other vigorous activity and the sedentary population as those who put in less than 16 minutes a week on average.

Of particular interest to Lynn Cherkas, the study’s lead author, was the examination of the results of 67 pairs of twins, some fraternal and some identical, in which one exercised more than the other. She and fellow researchers Professor Tim Spector from the Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology Unit at King’s College London and Professor Abraham Aviv in New Jersey, looked for evidence of ageing at a molecular level in the population by analyzing telomeres, which cap the end of chromosomes in our cells and protect them from damage.

The study’s authors examined just the ends of DNA strands. Called telomeres, these act something like the plastic caps on shoelaces, preventing the DNA in chromosomes from unraveling. With age, our telomeres shorten, leaving us more susceptible to cell damage, which causes disease.

Previous research has shown that older people have shorter ends than younger ones and in fact, biologists say they shrink every time a cell divides. Emmanuel Skordalakes, a researcher at the Vistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pa says that this leads to overall disrepair because ultimately it stops your cells from dividing and replenishing themselves. “When the telomeres become short, then you start cutting into actual chromosomes where they are genes essential for our body,” he said. To prevent the fraying DNA in all those aging cells from seeding malignant tumors, Skordalakes said, the body turns them dormant. “Your body shuts down and more cells every day and you become old.”

9. Exercise and vocabulary words

In a 2007 study, German researchers found that people learn vocabulary words 20 percent faster following exercise than they did before exercise, and that the rate of learning correlated directly with the levels of BDNF, brain derived neurotrophic factor, the brain’s most powerful growth factor. Additionally, people with a gene variation that robs them of BDNF are more likely to have learning difficulties.


10. Exercise Equaling Cognitive Benefits

A study published in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (2007 December) involving 163 overweight children in Augusta, Georgia found that the cognitive and academic benefits of exercise seemed to increase with the size of the dose. The study, supported by the National Institute of Health, found that “these results provide evidence for a direct relation between a substantial dose of regular, vigorous exercise and improvement in children’s executive function.” (Executive function is responsible cognitive skills such as insight, judgment, analytical thinking, and decision-making).

For the study, a cross-disciplinary research team randomly assigned children to one of three groups. One group received 20 minutes of physical activity every day after school. Another group got a 40-minute daily workout, and the third group got no special exercise session. After 14 weeks, the children who made the greatest improvement, as measured by both standardized academic test and a test that measured their level of executive function, were those who spent 40 minutes a day playing tag and taking part in other active games designed by the researchers. The cognitive and academic gains for the 20-minute-a-day group were half as large.

“I was frankly bowled over by the results,” said Catherine Davis, the lead author of the study. “It’s like a staircase, which is considered strong evidence for causation,” added Davis, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

11. More Active Children Equal Less Body Fat: University of Iowa

Scientists at the University of Iowa found that the more active children were when they were young, the less body fat they had later on. Every additional 10 minutes of exercise at age 5 resulted in a third of a pound less fat at 11, regardless of the whether the activity level had been maintained.




“That which we call thinking is he evolutionary internalization of movement.”

~ Llilnas, 2001 ~


John Ratey, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School and author of numerous books including his most recent, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, 2008

Exercise improves learning on three levels

a. Attention: Optimizing your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation

b. Learning: preparing and encouraging nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for learning new information

c. Boosting recall: Spurring the development of new neurons from stem cells in the hippocampus

Brain activity is most enhanced after running and other strenuous exercise because physical exercise invigorates existing brain cells and stimulates the growth of new ones in the hippocampus, the brain area critical to learning and memory formation. (Jensen, 2008 citing Hogervorst, E; Reidel; Jeukendrup, Jolles, 1996)

“Aerobic exercise and complex activity have different beneficial effects on the brain. The more complex the movement, the more complex the synaptic connections. Circuits that are created through movements that can be recruited by other areas and used for thinking.” (Ratey, Spark, 2008)


Exercise relieves stress

The number one strategy for successfully alleviating stress is exercise. Plato had it right when he wrote some 2,400 years ago, “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

John Ratey, professor Harvard Medical School, maintains our brain developed over 500,000 to 1 million years ago when we were hunter gathers and at the same time, traveling 10 to 14 miles per day. What developed at the time was our Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), the front third of the brain. The PFC watches, supervises, guides, directs, and focuses our behavior. It contains our “executive functions” abilities that encompass behaviors such as time management, judgment, impulse control, planning, organization, and critical thinking. In addition, the PFC provides us with our ability to plan, use time wisely, and communicate with others and is responsible for behaviors that are necessary for you to act appropriately, focus on goals, maintain social responsibility, and be effective.

In view of the fact that brain growth occurred while were exercising daily, Ratey posits that during this period “our moving brain became our thinking brain.” Rodolfo Llinás, Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience and Chairman of the department of Physiology & Neuroscience at the NYU School of Medicine, supports Ratey’s theory writing, “That which we call thinking is the evolutionary internalization of movement.”

“If you don’t have a physical output for stress, it stays in the body, the symptoms don’t go away, and they lead to more permanent health problems,” says Nora Howley, manager of programs at National Education Association’s Health Information Network. If you’re not a runner, experiment with other forms of exercise. Try a Pilates, a Karate class, or take dance lessons. Go for a bike ride, or, at the very least, take a walk.

For those who are unable to be more physically active or if your personality does not lend itself to exercise, undertake meditation and relaxation exercises to minimize stress. Proper breathing from the diaphragm and visualization are proven ways to lower your heat rate.


Antronette Yancey, professor in the Department of Health Services, UCLA School of Public Health

Yancey has shown in her research that exercise improves a child’s ability to concentrate and to identify visual stimuli faster. Brain-activation studies have shown that children and adolescents who are fit allocate more cognitive resources to a task and do so for longer periods of time. Yancey states, “Kids pay better attention to their subjects when they have been active, less likely to be disruptive in terms of classroom behavior, feel better about themselves, have higher self-esteem, less depression, and less anxiety. All of these things can impair academic performance and attentiveness.”

Furthermore, she has shown that eliminating time from academic subjects for physical education did not hurt children’s performance on academic tests. On the contrary, Yancey writes that when “trained teachers provided physical education, the children actually did better on language, reading and the basic battery of tests.”


Added January 2013:

Carl Cotman: On January 14, 2013 The National Institutes of Health awarded Carl Cotman, along with three other researchers, new research funding to focus on innovated treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Cotman’s will conduct randomized, controlled trail that will seek to find out if supervised aerobic exercise can influence cognitive decline, slow brain atrophy, or mitigate Alzheimer’s pathology in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that often leads to Alzheimer’s disease.

Carl Cotman, Professor of Neurology at UC Irvine School of Medicine and Director of the Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia Research and Graduate Studies, blazed the trail for the study of exercise and neuroscience. He established a direct biological connection between movement and cognitive function. He proved that exercise sparks neuron development in the hippocampus, the master molecule of the learning process, and is extremely vulnerable to degenerative diseases. Furthermore, he was the first to demonstrate the effects of Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) on the brain.

BDNF is a protein produced inside nerve cells when they are active. John Ratey refers to BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for the brain” because it fertilizes brain cells to keep them functioning and growing, as well as spurring the growth of new neurons. It is responsible for building and maintaining cell circuitry-the infrastructure itself. It has been found in the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory and learning.

Cotman wanted to measure the levels of BDNF in brains of mice that exercised with running wheels. He couldn’t find any post doc students to volunteer but did find a physical therapy major. Mice like running, not like humans, and they will run several miles per night. He set up 4 groups of mice running 2, 4, 7 or 0 nights per week. Then he measured the BDNF levels of all groups of mice and found that the mice that ran the farthest had higher level of BDNF, not in all areas of the brain, just in the hippocampus. He didn’t believe it, so he did the experiment again and got the same results.

Ratey describes the hippocampus as “the way station for many aspects of learning and memory.” It gathers incoming stimuli throughout the brain, cross-references the new information with stored information, and bundles it together as a memory that is then sent to the pre frontal cortex for processing.

Cotman’s work laid the foundation that exercise strengthens the cellular machinery of learning; BDNF gives the synapses the tools for learning. Cotman showed exercise improves rate of learning and you are able to learn and function more efficiently.


BDNF: Exercise increases the level of BDNF

BDNF, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, is the brain’s most powerful growth factor, the brain’s fertilizer, and aids in the development of health tissues. It keeps existing neurons young and healthy, rending them more willing to connect with each other. It also encourages neurogenesis, the formation of new cells in the brain. In other words, BDNF builds and maintains cell circuitry, the infrastructure of the cell. The cells most sensitive to this are in the hippocampus,

When BDNF is sprinkled on a neuron in a Petri dish, the cells automatically sprout new branches. BDNF directly causes new neurons to grow, increases the voltage in neurons, improves signal strength at the synapses, and activate genes that increase the productivity of BDNF. Overall, BDNF improves the function of neurons, encourages neuron growth, strengthens, and protects neurons against natural cell death.

You Tube


Fred Gage and neurogenesis

In November 1998, Fred Gage of the Salk Institute in LaJolla, California and Peter Erickson, a postdoctoral fellow from Sweden, published a seminal study declaring the brain was not hardwired, new neurons do grow, and exercise is responsible for this process.

Gage's lab showed that, contrary to accepted dogma, human beings are capable of growing new nerve cells throughout life. Small populations of immature nerve cells are found in the adult mammalian brain, a process called neurogenesis. He demonstrated that environmental enrichment and physical exercise could enhance the growth of new brain cells. Presently, he is studying the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms that may be harnessed to repair the aged and damaged brain and spinal cord.

Until Fred Gage came along, brain scientists accepted as a matter of faith that the neurons, or brain cells existing at birth were all the brain cells you would ever have. His groundbreaking experiment showed that neurons are constantly developing, particularly in the learning and memory centers. Gage's discovery forced scientists to rethink some of their most basic ideas about how the brain works.

Even more exciting was the fact that the source of these new cells was neural-stem cells, master cells with the ability to morph into any type of brain cell, depending on the chemical signals they receive as they grow. Early studies hint that they may even belong to a more primitive population of stem cells that can form anything from skin to blood to liver cells. Gage showed that a part of the hippocampus, a structure critically important for memory, contains actively developing neural-stem cells.

Today neurobiologists no longer argue about whether or not the brain can grow new cells. Instead, they're trying to figure out how this cell growth can be harnessed to treat everything from epilepsy to stress to depression. Some have observed that during stress, for example, neurogenesis in the learning center of the brain in several animal species slows considerably, which may help explain depressive episodes that accompany stress.

The nervous system has the capacity for self-repair,” says Gage. I hope to understand how this occurs normally and to learn about the molecular, cellular, and environmental factors that control it.

Gage now believes that changes in behavior like exercising more can affect neurogenesis and alter the brain's wiring. "The idea is that we have control over who we are, even as adults," Gage declares. We're used to thinking that our minds control our bodies. Could it be the other way around? Could what we do change the structure of our brains? A radical idea-one turns on its head accepted ideas of nature vs. nurture.

Fred Gage


Elizabeth Gould and human neurogenesis

In October 1999, Elizabeth Gould, Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, was the first to show that primates grow new neurons, paving the way for human neurogenesis. Now the search is on to find the chemical in the hippocampus (where most of the growth of new neurons occur) that senses exercise is occurring.


Exercise and Aging

Aerobic exercise just twice a week halves your risk of general dementia and cuts your risk of Alzheimer’s by 60%. John Medina, Brain Rules

Is there one factor that predicts how well you will age? Yes, the presence or absence of a sedentary life style. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that exercise improves cardiovascular fitness, which in turn reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Furthermore, the people who aged successfully were more mentally alert. Studies have shown that a lifetime of exercise can result in an astonishing elevation in cognitive performance in all areas such as long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, and even so-called fluid intelligence tests (test the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly, improvising off previously learned material in order to solve a new problem). The only exception is short-term memory and certain types of reaction times.

The reason for this is increased blood flow to all parts of the body and brain. Neurons need a lot of support to do their job correctly, and problems with aging circulatory systems can reduce the blood supply that brings oxygen and glucose to your brain. Regular exercise that elevates your heart rate is the single most useful thing you can do to maintain your cognitive abilities later in life. Elderly people who have been athletic all their lives are better at executive-function tasks than sedentary people of the same age. When inactive people get more exercise, even in there 70’s, their executive function improves in just a few months. The benefits are strongest for women; through men also have significant gains.

Why? Exercise slows the decline in the cortical volume with age increase the number of small blood vessels (capillaries) in the brain, which improve the availability of oxygen and glucose to neurons. Exercise also causes the release of growth factors (called BDNF), proteins that support the growth of dendrites and synapses, increase synaptic plasticity, and increase the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus.

The effects of exercise are nearly endless; its impact is system wide, affecting physiological systems. Exercise makes your muscles and bones stronger, improves your strength and balance, regulates your blood lipid profile, reduces your risks factors for more than several dozen types of cancer, improves the immune system, and buffers against the toxic effects of stress. By enriching your cardiovascular system, it decreases your risk of hear disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Overall, how much exercise is needed? Aerobic exercise, 30 minutes for two or three times a week in the lab is the gold standard. Add strengthening exercises and you get even more cognitive benefit.

The Nun Study: A YouTube video (4:05) illustrating the above point

The Nun Study of Aging and Alzheimer's Disease is a longitudinal study of aging and Alzheimer's disease funded by the National Institute on Aging. Participants are 678 American members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame religious congregation who are 75 to 106 years of age.


Exercise, food, and circulation

The brain’s appetite for blood is enormous. The brain is only 2% of the body weight, yet it accounts for 20% of the body’s energy usage - about 10 times what would be expected. When the brain is fully working, it uses more energy per unit of tissue weight than a fully exercising quadriceps. But the brain cannot simultaneously activate more than 2% of its neurons at any one time. More than this, and the glucose supply will become quickly exhausted and you will faint.

The three requirements for human life are food, drink, and fresh air. But their effects on survival have very different timelines. You can live for 30 days or so without food, and you can go for a week without drinking water. But your brain is so active that it cannot go without oxygen for more than 5 minutes without risking serious and permanent damage. All of this activity and demand for glucose generates a lot of litter therefore; the brain also needs a lot of blood to remove these toxic wastes.

In his book Brain Rules, John Medina uses a metaphor of how the body provides food and oxygen to your cells. John McAdam is a Scottish engineer who invented macadamization. McAdam noticed the difficulty people had trying to move goods and supplies over hole-filled, often muddy, frequently impassable roads. He got the idea of raising the level of the road using layers of rock and gravel. As a result, people got more access that is dependable to one another’s goods and services.

You can do the same for your brain by increasing the roads to your body, namely your blood vessels, through exercise. Exercise does not provide oxygen and food; it provides access to the oxygen and the food. When you exercise, you increase blood flow across the tissues of the body. As the blood flow improves, the body makes new blood vessels, which penetrate deeper and deeper into the tissues of the body. This allows more access to the bloodstream’s goods and services. The more you exercise, the more tissues you can feed, and the more toxic wastes you can remove. In the brain, imaging studies have shown that exercise increases the blood flow to the hippocampus, creating new capillaries. The hippocampus is the grand central station of learning and is involved in converting short-term memories to long-term memories.

You Tube (3:37): John Medina Brain Rules: Exercise


Exercise and Food

Cells turn food into glucose, a type of sugar that is one of our body’s favorite energy resources. During this manufacturing process, excess electrons from the atoms in the glucose molecules are created and form toxic wastes. The excess electrons are called free radicals, and they wreak havoc on the innards of a cell by slamming into other molecules within the cell. In fact, they are fully capable of causing DNA mutations. Our blood delivers oxygen and foodstuff to our cells while at the same time absorbing the free radicals (now changed to carbon dioxide). Therefore, blood serves both wait staff - delivering glucose - and haz-mat team - removing free radicals.


Exercise and mental disorders

Exercise has been used to treat brain and atypical disorders and does reduce the risk of getting dementia. Moreover, your lifetime risk for dementia is literally cut in half if you participate in leisure-time physical activities.

With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater; exercise lowers your odds by more than 60%. People who exercise regularly in middle age are one-third as likely to get Alzheimer’s in their 70s as those who do not exercise. Even people who begin to exercise in their 60s can reduce their risk of getting Alzheimer’s by as much as half.

How much exercise is effective? By participating in some form of exercise just twice a week, and completing a twenty-minute walk each day, you cut your risk of stroke by 57%, which is one of the leading causes of mental disability in the world.

What about exercise as an intervention to treat mental disorders? Exercise is very effective because it regulates the release of the three neurotransmitters most commonly associated with the maintenance of good health: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

For both depression and anxiety, the benefits of exercise are immediate and effective over the long term. Equally effective for male and female, the longer the program is deployed, the greater the effect becomes and exercise is especially helpful for the elderly and those with severe cases of mental disorders.

John Ratey cites research linking learned helplessness, a mild form of depression, and exercise. Learned helplessness is the perception of inescapability and its associated cognitive collapse that many people and animals experience when punishment is unavoidable. He notes if children exercise before a learning activity, they resist longer before they go into learned helplessness and if they do go into it, students come out of it sooner.

“Learned helplessness,” coined by Martin Seligman, a world-renowned authority on depression, abnormal psychology, and considered to be the father of positive psychology, is discussed in length in the Stress section of this site.


Survival insights

Every paleoanthropologist agrees on one thing, our ancestors moved a lot. When our bountiful rain forest began to shrink, collapsing the local food supply, we were forced to wander around an increasingly dry landscape for more trees we could scamper up for dinner. As the climate became more arid, these wet botanical vending machines disappeared altogether. Instead of moving up & down, which requires a lot of dexterity, we began walking back & forth across arid arboreal environments, which required a lot of stamina. We averaged about 12 miles per day, and about half of that for women. We were working out, not lounging around.

How does this apply to today’s society? We are not made to sit in a classroom for 6 hours per day or an office cubicle for 8 hours. If we sat around for 8 minutes on the Serengeti, we were somebody’s lunch.

Medina points out that Homo Erectus was the first real marathon runner, a vicious predator, who evolved about 2 million years ago. Our direct ancestors, Homo sapiens, moved out of East Africa approximately 100,000 years ago, reaching Argentina by 12,000 years ago. Some researchers suggest we were extending our ranges by an unheard of 25 miles per day. Our ancestors were constantly encountering new food sources, new predators, and new physical dangers. Along the road, they routinely suffered injuries, experienced strange illnesses, and delivered and nurtured children, all without textbooks or modern medicine. We were in top physical shape or we didn’t survive. The human brain became the most powerful in the world under these conditions where motion was a constant presence.



“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.