The Miracle You Can Have Every Day, Part 1: Exercise, Learning and the Brain
It was morning, the first day. I cranked up Zaho. One of my daughters pulled out her hula hoop and began a twenty-minute set of hooping and singing. The other daughter laced up her running shoes, opened the front door, and was off. I packed a snack for both of them, and rinsed the dishes that had held a high-protein breakfast. It was the least we could do to get ready for their first day of annual standardized testing.
In another town, my girls' grandparents were praying for them, which I appreciated very much. But I was also aware that if we dared ask for external miracles maybe we should first we embrace the God-given, built-in miracles we can have every day.
Exercise is one of those miracles. It affects so many aspects of our brain and being that I want to do a six-week series here to discuss its amazing effects on everything from aging, to ADHD, from anxiety to depression and addiction.
But today let's just talk about exercise, the brain, and learning.
According to John J. Ratey, M.D., exercise improves learning on three levels:
1. it creates a good mindset by improving alertness, attention and motivation
2. it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another
3. it spurs the development of new nerve cells in the hippocampus
Exercise manages these miracles by pushing important chemical factors through the blood-brain barrier. It also unleashes something that is already happily waiting in the brain (BDNF). And BDNF is like Miracle Grow for the brain, notes brain-scientist John Medina.
One school district in Naperville, Illinois, is taking the miracle of exercise very seriously. They've launched a program that focuses on fitness instead of sports (with sports, there's a lot of sitting around and waiting to play). And they've made it a point to schedule this fitness program at Zero Hour, before students are expected to learn about everything from alliteration to the Table of Elements.
The good news? Kids are getting fit, and test scores have risen.
Needless to say, now that I know this, there's a lot more hula hooping and running going on at my house. After all, if I can give my kids a miracle, why wouldn't I do that every day?
Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Post by L.L. Barkat, author of God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us.
“Most of the material on The High Calling is available for reuse under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. Unfortunately, work by Laura Barkat is not available for reuse. If you are interested in reprinting work by Laura Barkat, please contact her directly.”
For more on the subject of exercise and the brain, check out this wonderfully amusing and informative quick video from John Medina. It may make you want to get one of those bouncy-ball horses you had when you were a kid. (Mine was red.