Workout for body and brain

I started thinking about learning while exercising as an idea for a blog post, mostly due to lack of any other ideas. I’ve been reading some very interesting magazine articles while doing the elliptical machine at the Y (and sometimes on the exercise bike or treadmill, depending which is available).

At home I listen to books on tape while riding the exercise bike because my Schwinn Airdyne uses both arms and legs. But  the exercise equipment at the Y does not use the arms (though I find it helpful to hold the side bars of the treadmill to maintain a consistent position), so I read magazines.

Most of what is available on the magazine racks does not interest me (sports, hunting, specialized magazines on photography and computers, fashion, etc.), but I generally manage to find an old copy of Discover, Smithsonian, or National Geographic. Occasionally I read TIME or even Popular Mechanics.

I have read about dogsled teams patrolling the coast of Greenland, the big business of growing flowers for export from Colombia, dark matter, Charles Dickens, and selecting foods based on one’s dosha (it looks like I’m a Kapha). Sometimes I’m so interested in what I’m reading that I keep going past the time I had programmed into the exercise machine’s “dashboard.”

My motivation for reading is to keep from being bored while exercising, as I have no interest in any of the TV programs available for viewing. But I end up learning things that I would not have, otherwise, because those topics aren’t ones I would have gone looking for information about. And both the exercise and the learning are easier than either would have been without the other.

Yesterday I received a letter in the mail about a curriculum my sixth-grade son is learning, about healthy diet and exercise. Parents are of course urged to help by reinforcing the healthy messages and habits our children are learning about in school.

Al has been going with me to the Y (he runs/walks around the track while I do my workout, and lately has been logging over three miles each time), two evenings a week. This program at school encourages daily exercise, so I want to help him find ways to get more exercise.

Thinking about school and exercise, it occurred to me to suggest – mostly in humor – that schools should get exercise equipment for students to use while studying. It would give them the additional exercise they need, and probably help them learn better as well.

The children who need to burn off excess energy would put it to good use instead of making trouble. And those who are more likely to nod off when reading a book they find boring would be kept wide awake by the vigorous exercise.

As I often do when starting a blog post, I did a Google search on the topic first. Somewhat to my surprise, I found a number of articles exploring the benefits of exercise to improve learning. It’s no surprise that keeping the body active improves functioning of the brain along with other parts of the body. But apparently there is an additional cognitive boost from learning while exercising.

One study looked at the gamma rhythm in the brains of mice. They didn’t (as far as I can tell) do testing to show the effect on learning, but probably some future study will. A study on adults learning French vocabulary words while exercising did in fact show measurable benefits. And, most relevant to my thoughts about exercise and school, a study of elementary school children showed that their test scores improved when they learned while being physically active.

Businesses have begun offering “standing desks” to their office workers. Usually this is touted as a health benefit, because studies have shown that sitting too long leads to obesity and other health problems. But if people feel more energized when working at a standing desk, I’m sure it improves the quality of their work also.

I would prefer a standing desk, myself, but I haven’t yet made an official request. (I was told, some time ago, by the person who coordinates our office layout and seating, that there weren’t any more tall chairs available – even people at standing desks want to sit sometimes – so I couldn’t have a standing desk.) Next time I meet with my supervisor (i.e. next time he schedules a meeting and doesn’t cancel it), I may bring it up.

Why not consider standing desks for students in school, also? It would take a lot of money to replace existing furniture, but probably less than some of the other programs that have been suggested in order to improve both learning and health in children.  Even better are some of the innovative ideas tried in the article I linked to above. What better way to teach geography than to actually “run” through it?

It has long been recognized that the traditional lecture format is not a very effective way to produce learning. Part of the problem is the lecture – a very one-sided type of communication. But I’m sure the fact that students normally sit during lectures doesn’t help either. (How many times has my husband complained because I start to nod off during his sermons? I keep telling him the problem is my sitting for so long, not the sermons themselves.)

I don’t do much teaching on a regular basis, but I’m in the middle of my annual six-session JA Global Marketplace program in a six-grade classroom (not at my son’s school). Every lesson involves at least one group activity where the students do the work instead of listening to me, but now I think I want to find ways to get them up and moving around some also.

I have also just joined the Christian Education committee at the church where my husband is now pastor, and I will be helping them choose curriculum for the children’s program. I’m sure many teacher prefer lessons where the children sit quietly and listen – both because it is the traditional format and because it at least seems to keep them better under control – but if it doesn’t facilitate learning, it’s not the best way.

I’ve long preferred the Rotation model of Sunday School, because it gets the children more actively involved in learning. (I haven’t had the opportunity to be involved in a true rotation program because the churches where my husband has pastored are too small to have multiple classes, but I try to implement some of the principles of active learning and multiple learning styles.)

I also like the Kids Own Worship program from Group Publishing, because the emphasis is on worship and on God rather than on moral lessons. (If you focus on God you end up teaching/learning moral lessons, but it’s way to easy to teach/learn moral lessons without much focus on God.) I also like it because it accustoms children to the elements of worship in kid-friendly ways – and often that involves a fair amount of movement.

Of course, here I sit, working on a blog post for well over an hour. My husband is saving up money for a new computer. Maybe I need to save money up for some kind of standing desk at home.

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