Educators educating Educators

Sep 23

Exercise & Learning

“You never step into the same river twice.”

John Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes in his book Spark, “Darwin taught us that learning is the survival mechanism we use to adapt to constantly changing environments. Inside the microenvironment of the brain, that means forging new connections between cells to relay information. When we learn something, whether it’s a French word or a salsa step, cells morph in order to encode information; the memory physically becomes part of the brain.”

Ratey refers to teachers as literal brain surgeons because when a student learns as a result of their instruction, the brain of the student is physically changed forever. Or as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “You never step into the same river twice.”

Below are two YouTube with John Ratey

Run, Jump, Learn! How Exercise can Transform our Schools: John J. Ratey, MD at TEDxManhattanBeach (10:43): While exercise in good for the body, Dr. John J. Ratey, MD, argues it is more important for the brain, especially when it comes to students in the classroom. Citing scientific studies and real world examples, this internationally recognized expert in the brain-exercise connection demonstrates how we can raise test scores, lower behavioral problems, and help the overall well-being of today's students with fitness based physical education.

Exercise and the Brain - An Interview with Dr. John Ratey (2:42)



Examples of brain changes due to excessive activation

“The brain acts like a muscle: The more activity you do, the larger and more complex it can become. Whether that leads to more intelligence is another issue, but one fact is indisputable: What you do in life physically changes what your brain looks like.”

When scientists mapped the brain areas that receive sensory information from the left and of string musicians who practiced a skill year-in and year-out, they found the area larger than that in nonplayers. They also found that the area of the brain activated on hearing piano notes is roughly 25% larger in pianists than in non-musicians.





John Medina, author of Brain Rules, explains how exercise boosts brain power (3:36)



Exercise & the growth of new neuron

Carl Cotman, Professor of Neurology, 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 its effect on the growth of new neurons. His research proved that synaptic plasticity also involves the growth of new nerve cells, particularly in the hippocampus, one of the areas of the brain directly involved in memory. Cotman established a direct biological connection between movement and cognitive function. He proved that exercise sparks neuron development (the growth of new neuron) in the hippocampus, the master molecule of the learning process. The hippocampus is extremely vulnerable to degenerative diseases and early research has shown that the growth of new neurons in this area helps to slow the onset of some types of degenerative diseases. (Cotman’s work is discussed in length in the exercise section).

Carl Cotman


Welcome back to another school year. I hope your summer was relaxing and invigorating and you are looking forward to the approaching school year and the opportunity to stimulate and challenge your students’ minds.

This summer I was able to study Sir Ken Robinson, a British author, speaker and international advisor on education to governments, non-profits, and education organizations

I, like many people, find his writings and Ted Talks not only witty and inspiring but also thought-provoking and challenging. Much of his work deals with the diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities. He posits that the noticeable lack of them in our schools negatively affect students’ learning and teachers’ productivity and the absence of them is triggered by the demands of standardized testing.

I hope you find Sir Ken Robinson’s words inspiriting and challenging as I do and be mindful of them as you plan for the new year. Here is to a great 2017-2018 school year!